Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2012, 7:28 pm

UT confident in hard-working group

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By Daniel Makarewicz,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener
United Township senior guard Jamie VanWatermeulen looks for an opening during a preseason practice. VanWatermeulen is one of four seniors on the Panthers' roster.
- This is the third in a series of previews of Q-C Metro girls' basketball teams. Coming tomorrow: Rock Island.

Losing a group that took the program to heights not reached in two decades is hard to replace, something United Township girls' basketball coach Justin Shiltz fully acknowledges.

There is, however, something that gives Shiltz hope.

"This is one of the hardest-working groups I've ever had," Shiltz said. "We haven't had a bad practice. The effort is there everyday."

Whether effort can translate into wins and a repeat Western Big 6 Conference title will be determined later, but the Panthers have provided the effort that makes it possible for success to happen. That must remain as the season starts since UT must replace several three-year varsity starters.

"When you're breaking in a new group, you don't know what to expect," Shiltz said. "There is an unknown."

What the Panthers do know is their preparation puts them in a position to be successful.

"I couldn't ask for a better group," Shiltz said.

-What is a strength of this team?
"Our senior guards (Jamie VanWatermeulen and Jen VanWatermeulen). They're the two most experienced players. They were the first guards off the bench the last couple years. And (senior forward) Katie Daggett was the first post player off the bench. We're looking for them to guide this group. They've been great in practice. They've been awesome when it comes to being extensions of the staff on the floor."

-How much inexperience does this team have?
"I'm comfortable with our starting group. We have three or four first-year varsity juniors and we have two or three sopohomores battling for time as well. They just don't have the minutes that they should because we played a group of (experienced) girls for two or three years. There are going to be growing pains. We have to be patient. We'll be much seasoned by January. That doesn't mean we're not going to compete. The expectations are there."

-How much depth is there?
"I'd love to play eight, nine or 10 girls early in the season. Usually, the rotation works out by Christmas. I feel comfortable playing eight nine or 10. It's really hard to say. We have those four seniors. After that, it's a free for all."

-Where will the scoring come from?
"We've got to rely on our seniors. We have some kids who can score. We have some depth in the post, but our seniors will have to lead us and score for us. We're going to have to score by committee this year."

-Why type of style with this team have?
"We're going to be kind of the same. We're a half-crout offensive and defensive team. We'll run it if we see the opportunity. We run a montion offense. From that standpoint, nothing's changed. The personnel has, but the philosophy has not."

-Is there talk about defending your Western Big 6 title?
"Not to look past last year, but last year is last year. That's something that . We don't feel like we have to defend anything. ... You don't have to feel pressure of defending something no one can take away from you. This group wants to make its own mark."

Meet the Panthers

-Coach: Justin Shiltz (4th season, 56-38)
-Last season: 22-10, 7-3 Western Big 6; lost to Moline, 59-47, in Class 4A regional championship
-Returning letterwinners: Srs.: Amy Heland (5-7, G), Jamie VanWatermeulen (5-7, G), Jen VanWatermeulen (5-7, G), Katie Daggett (5-11, C); Sophs.: Taylor Dobrinske (5-6, G), Shatavia Lowery (5-5, G).
-Newcomers: Jrs.: Megan Ballegeer (5-10, F), Selica Tristan (5-5, G), Amanda DeVilder (5-10, F), Treasur Lewis (5-7, G), Charmaine Clark (5-11, C); Sophs.: Baylee Burklund (5-8, F), Sadie Roberts (5-11, F); Fr.: Jada Harris (5-10, F)
-Schedule (All games 7, unless tournament or where noted): Nov. 16, 17, 23 at Galesburg Thanksgiving Tournament; Nov. 20 at Quincy; Nov. 27 at Davenport Central, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 29 at Rock Island; Dec. 1 Geneseo, 1 p.m.; Dec. 4 Bartonville Limestone, 6:30 p.m.; Dec. 6 at Alleman; Dec. 13 Galesburg; Dec. 27-29 at Dixon Holiday Tournament; Jan. 3 Moline; Jan. 5 at Iowa-Illinois Shootout; Jan. 10 Quincy; Jan 12, 19, 21 at Galesburg Tournament; Jan. 17 Rock Island; Jan. 22 at DeKalb; Jan. 24 Alleman; Jan. 31 at Galesburg; Feb. 2 Pekin, 1:30 p.m.; Feb. 7 at Moline