Mary Kroening is enjoying her unique situation at St. Michael the Archangel — she gets to start a new high school girls basketball program, but she gets to do it with players she already knows.
While many of the first-year school’s athletic teams have started from scratch with new coaches and new players, Kroening just brought O’Hara’s squad along with her to the sparkling new building in Lee’s Summit.
“The blending part has not been an issue with these girls,” Kroening said. “They’ve been very familiar with each other over the years. We’re just asking kids to be in different roles than we’ve had with our previous teams.”
That, so far, has been the biggest challenge for Kroening and St. Michael as it embarks on its inaugural season.
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Every player except the freshmen Guardians were under her tutelage at O’Hara, but none of them were starters and most lack in varsity experience. O’Hara was a senior-laden team last season and one of the Celtics’ standouts, all-state point guard Tiana Gipson, transferred to Lee’s Summit North.
Kroening’s final team at O’Hara, which closed last May with the opening of St. Michael, finished 16-10 and made it to the Class 3 District 14 final. The challenge for the Guardians will be to duplicate or exceed that success with girls taking on new responsibilities on the floor.
“These girls that are starting now were on our team but they’re stepping into new positions and are being asked to carry leadership roles,” Kroening said. “We know that early on they are a little inexperienced but as the season progresses we’re confident that” they will develop.
St. Michael’s current starting five includes seniors Alexis DeMarea, a 5-foot-8 guard; Carsyn Koob, a 5-6 forward; and Jessie Lanpher, a 5-9 forward; along with juniors Nina Sirna, a 5-4 point guard, and strong forward Francie Mitchell. The Guardians also have some size off the bench in 6-1 freshman Clare Scheier and 5-11 junior Alex Pocock.
“We have a lot more size than in the past, so we’re working on our inside game more than we have,” Kroening said. “Years previous at our former school, we were guard-oriented a lot. Now, we’re trying to make our inside presence known.”
That’s made a big adjustment. The Guardians were able to knock down shots during an 88-21 victory against Cristo Rey in their opener, but a 33-29 loss against Hogan Prep followed on Monday night during the first round of the Eagle Invitational at Summit Christian Academy.
St. Michael had long stretches of missed shots and made only 14 of 30 free throws in the loss. DeMarea and Scheier were the Guardians’ leading scorers with six points each.
“We missed some easy baskets around the rim we need to put in there,” Kroening said. “It makes the game a lot easier if you make those. Plus, we were not very good from the charity stripe. All the things we struggled with tonight are all fixable. They’re just things that happen early on in a season.”
It’s a season in which Kroening and her players are continuing what they’ve already done together, while also building something new.
“I think the familiarity with each other is kind of nice and starting a whole new program with new traditions is kind of neat as well,” Kroening said.