Power Rangers: New Knoxville Looking To Finish Strong

New Knoxville’s Haley Fledderjohann (2) and Morgan Leffel (5) high five each other during a Midwest Athletic Conference girls basketball game against New Bremen earlier this year.
Sports Editor

Last year around this time, New Knoxville entered its Midwest Athletic Conference match against Fort Recovery at 9-5 overall, but just 1-3 in conference play fresh off a 45-35 loss to Versailles.

A year later, the Rangers are one game better overall at 9-4 but are 3-1 in the MAC, fresh off an upset win at state-ranked Versailles and in the thick of a MAC title.

And while there is still a lot of games to be played, the Rangers have not taken a step back. 

Talking about his team before Tuesday’s practice, Rangers coach Tim Hegemier said last week’s 49-42 win against the Tigers was an ugly game with both teams struggling to shoot the ball well, but his team’s effort — like it has all season — made the difference.

“We knew that we had to work hard, box out and play good defense because they had their 6-2, 6-3 girls,” the coach said. “But we kind of clamped down on them and even though they scored 16 and 20 points, their guards didn’t so much.

“We didn’t let them get to the rim and it kind of worked out for us.”

A major contributor to the Rangers’ upset was the play of sophomore Haley Fledderjohann, who led the team with 15 points. 

The youngest of the Fledderjohann sisters on the team, the point guard has seen more action on the floor the last few weeks, has shown her worth on defense and is now translating it on the scoreboard.

“She was one of the main reasons we won,” Hegemier added. 

Playing in 12 of the team’s 13 games this season, Fledderjohann is averaging 5.6 points per game — fifth on the team — but is only 21 points behind Jacklyn Leffel in total points for fourth-most points scored on the team, is averaging 1 steal per game, 1.4 assists per game and is shooting a healthy 40.4% from the field.

The coach added that Fledderjohann took the ball to the basket in her five buckets against Versailles, finishing 5-of-5 from the field, Hegemier recollected. Last week’s victory marked the sixth straight for the Rangers as they look to make a run in order garb a top four-seed in the Division IV sectional seedings released early next month. 

“I think with Haley Fledderjohann in the mix now — and everybody has to remember that she did not play last year because of fractures in her foot so basically she is a freshman in my eyes — and I think that every game she plays she gets a little bit better. And it’s showing,” Hegemier said.

After an 0-2 start, New Knoxville has won nine of its last 11 games and its four losses have come against teams with a combined 38-3 record — two of those teams are state-ranked. The Rangers played Marion Local twice this season. Not included the 34-point loss to Fort Loramie earlier this season, the Rangers lost their other three games by a combined 15 points.

“I think we are constantly getting a little bit better every time,” Hegemier added. 

On last season’s district runner-up team, Hegemier had a do-it-all point guard in Erin Scott who ran the offense, was disciplined with the ball and scored — finishing as the team’s second-best scorer. This season, Hegemier has sophomore and second-year starter Ellie Gabel, whose main responsibility is to run the offense and be discipline with the basketball. That’s where Fledderjohann comes in as the other guard on the team who compliments Gabel by scoring the points. However, Gabel is tied for second with 9.7 ppg.

“She (Gabel) probably doesn’t get off as many shots as she would like (34-of-101), but when Haley is in, it kind of takes a little bit of pressure off of her (Gabel). When Haley is in, we have a mix of a couple of good guards to bring the ball up the floor and run the offense.”

As it stands entering Thursday’s MAC showdown with No. 18 Fort Recovery (9-3, 3-1) the Rangers are in the mix with five conference matches left to go and one game out of first place for a chance at their first MAC title since finishing as co-champions in 2012-13. New Knoxville also had runner-up finishes in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

When he entered the season, Hegemier said he was not sure where his team would be 13 games in. Prior to the season, he said his measuring stick was 10 games in for him to see what kind of team he was going to have.

“I didn’t know how the girls were going to develop, but Morgan (Leffel) is starting to step it up more by scoring eight to 10 points a game (9.7 average), Haley is giving us a good boost and Ellie is doing what she is doing,” Hegemier added. “It’s a plus, it’s a plus.”

Despite there bring a long way to go in the season — roughly one-third of the season remaining and five MAC games left — the Rangers girls basketball program is just one out of a few for New Knoxville athletics that have helped the school blossom.

This past fall, the Rangers volleyball team became district qualifiers for the first time since 2015, the basketball team last season were district runners-up to eventual state champion Minster — advancing to the district tournament since 2014-15 — and the girls track and field team had four regional qualifiers — the most in a season since 2014 — and a state qualifier for the second straight year.

“I give the credit to the parents,” Hegemier said. “The parents are the ones who bring these kids up and make them competitive and when you don’t have that, things can go sour. That’s where I give my credit to; good upbringing from parents, getting their kids in programs where they can excel in their athletic ability.”

Hegemier noted that the tournament draw for girls basketball is in a couple of weeks — draws will be announced Feb. 2 — and added that being the No. 2 seed again like New Knoxville was last year is going to be much tougher with Minster, Fort Recovery and Marion Local in the mix.

“Every win that you can get under your belt is a plus,” he concluded.

To read the full story, see Thursday's print edition of The Evening Leader.