SOUTH WHITLEY — Mike Howard looks for his young Whitko Wildcats to play an energetic brand of basketball in 2019-20.

It’ll be needed since the school will not put a junior varsity team on the floor and there are 11 players on the varsity roster — seniors Haley Howard and Jadin Parrett, sophomores Reese Bradford, Kylie Fugett and Elizabeth Miller and freshmen Brooklynn Coburn, Zoey Gaff, Morgan Howard, Kirsten Schipper, Nadia Rhoades and Maggie Wolfe.

Graduation took Emalee Duggins (12.1 points per game), Ellie Snep (11.0), Kayla Schipper (6.6), Sarah Hewitt (5.9) and Lilly Ousley (1.4) from the 2018-19 team

Howard, who is in his first season as head girls basketball coach at his alma mater, wants to hustle on both sides of the ball

“We are going to be an aggressive defensive and offensive team,” says Howard. “We are wanting to play uptempo whenever possible and try to tap into the enthusiasm of young players.”

Howard, a 1990 Whitko graduate who takes over a program that went 5-18 overall and 3-6 in the Three Rivers Conference on the varsity level in 2018-19, looks at a roster with nine underclassmen and identifies some short-term goals

“It’s increasing our overall basketball IQ and understanding of the work ethic required to be successful at the varsity level,” says Howard, who has two players — Fugett and Miller— back from last year’s varsity. “We will have a bunch of young kids that will get plenty of opportunities to see court time

“With a young team we will share responsibilities so no one player gets overwhelmed and to help build depth. Our numbers require our players to be able to play multiple roles since even one injury could be critical.” How will the Wildcats build their team culture? “It is a constant discussion regarding what you are actually in control of as a player and how that can free you up to perform at your best,” says Howard. “In a small school and with a small team, chemistry is even more critical especially in a program that has struggled with participation and didn’t have the win/loss success they would have wanted.”

Howard, who is assisted by Chad Schipper, Haley Yohe and Hanna Yohe, says Whitko’s strengths as the IHSAA Class 2A squad prepares to open the campaign at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lakeland Christian is youth, energy and versatility on the wing.

In viewing the Wildcats schedule, the coach sees plenty of tests.

“There are no nights off in the TRC and our out of conference schedule is very challenging as well,” says Howard. “It will be a test for this young team to play teams like Central Noble, Columbia CIty, Huntington North and Tippecanoe Valley just to name a few.” The 3A Cougars, 4A Eagles, 4A Vikings and 3A Vikings went a combined 64-24 last winter

Howard has coached varsity girls at Whitko before. That was in volleyball. He was also head volleyball coach at Warsaw and Goshen. He has been junior high basketball coach in the Wildcats system.