By Chris Chaney
The Bethel-Tate Lady Tigers did not get off to the start they envisioned when they broke preseason practice in late November, but at 2-3 in the Southern Buckeye Conference, they are in a three-way tie for third place with another round of games against their conference rivals.
“We had a very tough schedule as far as being front-loaded,” head coach Dave Fallis said. “If we use that to our advantage, it should set up for a favorable second half of the season.”
Coming into the season, Fallis was weary of the Lady Tigers’ lack of height and numbers, but he had to make a decision as to how to counteract both shortcomings without gassing his players.
“Unfortunately, our style of play is up-and-down (on offense) and man-to-man on defense, trying to get our opponents to play faster,” Fallis said. “Even with our numbers, our team loves to play man and go up and down even with only eight players. Sometimes it works, but against teams like Seton who dress 14 players, it’s hard to compete.”
In dealing with the Lady Tigers’ flaws, Fallis has had to adjust dependent upon foul trouble and who is playing well.
At 4-8 overall, Bethel’s record doesn’t jump out at you, but if you go beyond the win-loss column, you can see that the Lady Tigers are a program that competes every night and has a bright future.
“We have a team that never throws in the towel,” Fallis said. “Regardless if we’re up or down five, our players don’t quit.”
In their eight losses, Bethel has been within 10 points in half of them. Competing especially hard in conference, they have lost three games by a combined 14 points, with one of those losses being a 10-point defeat to Norwood.
Western Brown has a strangle-hold on the American Division of the SBC, but Norwood, New Richmond, Amelia and Bethel all have life so long as they help each other out by taking down the Lady Broncos in the second half.
“Right now, Western Brown hasn’t lost, but our goal is to just play our type of basketball,” Fallis said. “When we get back in conference, we’ll be ready. We have Western Brown at home, Norwood at home and New Richmond at home, so we have those games circled on our calendar. If we can take care of our business and what we can control, I think we’ll be fine.”
Bethel only has eight players on their roster, but they are pretty evenly split as far as experience is concerned.
A reason for optimism in Bethel can be derived from the Lady Tigers’ leading scorers, Brooke and Julia Jenike, who are a sophomore and freshman, respectively.
Julia leads the way for the Lady Tigers going for 15.2 points a night while her older sister, Brooke averages 12.3.
“We’re all still learning how to play together,” Fallis said. “With our offense, it allows for freedom to some degree in terms of attacking the basket, which both Brooke and Julia do very well. Both also have great perimeter shooting.”
The Jenike’s games complement one another as Brooke plays a swing guard to Julia’s rare combination as a point-center.
With their pedigree, coaches know what to expect from the sisters and often key on them to try and slow down the Lady Tigers’ offense. However, Fallis has set up the Bethel offense to allow every player on the court the opportunity to score.
“Our offense is not one dimensional,” the coach explained. “It allows others to step up. When opponents key in on Brooke or Julia, someone like a Sid(ney) Kilgore or a Alex Shinkle is able to step up.”
Kilgore and Shinkle are just two of the other six players on the roster that all see significant playing time for Fallis. With just eight players, the Lady Tigers need to be versatile and interchangeable, which is what makes the matchup problems they face with taller players on defense just as much of an advantage on the offensive end of the court when they draw the opponents’ big men out of the lane.
The Lady Tigers have a trio of winnable games coming up in the next week, although all three are on the road, before getting back in conference play.
Hosting four of their five remaining SBC games at home (Goshen is the only road game), Fallis believes that seven or eight wins is entirely possible in the Lady Tigers’ last nine.
Bethel begins the last third of their schedule on Jan. 17 when they travel to Batavia to play the 5-6 Lady Bulldogs.