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High expectations for Morristown tempered by early rash of injuries

Rachel Kleine accepted the graciousness of Morristown being ranked in the top 15 of the coaches preseason girls basketball poll. The lofty status came from a strong finish to the 2022 season and great expectations for the 2023 squad.

“I think it feels good. It speaks to where we left last year,” said Kleine, 65-46 in her sixth year with the Yellow Jackets. “It’s a testament to how hard the girls worked last year.”

Morristown put together a five-game win streak before falling to Jac-Cen-Del, 48-41, in the sectional semifinal round.

Three of Morristown’s top four scorers last season are set to return but when that date happens is still a mystery.

“Right now, this is how you end a season,” said Kleine after rattling off a rash of injuries to a team that has just 10 players total in the program. “We’re starting a season this way.”

Raegan Kleine (11.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.2 steals as a junior) played in Morristown’s season opener Thursday at Eastern Hancock but is still recovering from a high ankle sprain that forced her to miss the end of the volleyball season.

Sophomore Olivia Rude suffered a concussion in Morristown’s preseason scrimmage with Martinsville. She will miss the opening stretch of the season.

Sophomore Danika Rutledge (5.6 points, 6.8 rebounds in her debut year) is dealing with a broken finger on her left hand. Her next doctor’s appointment could clear her for action or sideline her longer for surgery.

Sophomore Nevaeh Sanders (10.1 ppg, 2.9 rebounds, 2.6 steals) has not yet reached her IHSAA-mandated number of practices to become eligible.

So Morristown arrived at Class 2A, No. 14 Eastern Hancock for its season opener with seven “healthy” players. The result was a 74-25 loss.

“We’re trying to stay focused, working hard to develop our young players and in the long run it will pay off,” said Kleine. “We’re getting experience now and will be deeper and better off for it.”

Raegan Kleine is one of three seniors on the roster and the program leader.

“It’s natural for her to lead right now,” said coach Kleine, who is Raegan’s mother. “She has played varsity for four years now. She has had big roles on teams from a young age. The kids look to her and I’m proud of the way she has assumed this role.”

Senior Maggie Lutes (2.2 points, 4.9 rebounds) is another strong voice leading from within the program.

“She is really stepping up with leadership,” said coach Kleine. “She has been fabulous.”

The third senior is veteran Sarah Essex, who will have an expanded role early in the season.

“She has played a lot and put her time in,” said Kleine.

Junior guard Alexia Rogers had seven points in the loss at Eastern Hancock and is learning how to be the voice between the seniors and younger players.

“She is doing a good job in that upperclassman role,” said Kleine.

Rutledge has grown to six-foot, two inches tall and is developing into a consistent low post threat after an impressive freshman season.

“She played some AAU (basketball) in the offseason and got stronger,” said Kleine. “She is itching to get back on the floor. She has matured. She is a lot less intimidated. She will be a force to be reckoned with when she gets back on the floor.”

Sophomore Nevaeh Cox led Morristown in scoring at the Martinsville scrimmage and will see an expanded role this season.

“She is extremely quick,” said Kleine.

Rude will fill a variety of roles for Morristown.

“Defensively and offensively, she is a smart player,” said Kleine. “I like what I’ve seen from her.”

Morristown finished 5-2 over its last seven games last season with Sanders averaging 18.6 ppg. With Raegan Kleine and Danika Rutledge, Morristown has a consistent trio of scorers.

“We have a lot of young talent but not a lot of varsity experience,” said Rachel Kleine. “But they are scrappy and coachable.”

With only 10 players in the program, Morristown will not have a junior varsity squad this season. And with the injuries, Kleine has yet to have all 10 players on the floor for a practice.

“We’re just in a tough spot right now,” said Kleine.

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