Lisa Kinderknecht has her work cut out for her this year.
The nucleus of seniors that led her to a state title in her first year as head coach and a berth in the state tournament last season is gone.
In their place will be a group that has contributed on varsity in the past but has not yet been asked to make the impact expected of starters at a top 6A program.
“We have seven seniors this year, and we’re hoping that they can be the leading core, that’s what you plan for and you hope for,” she said. “We have Aubrey Jung, Jessie Kujawa, Lauren Goralczyk. We have some seniors that didn’t have playing time but made the team.”
Clearly, that group is facing an uphill battle.
Of the five senior starters lost to graduation, four went to on to play at the next level.
“Four out of those five seniors went on to play collegiate ball somewhere and the other senior could have if she had chosen to,” she said. “So yeah, big shoes to fill. Those girls were all a part of the state championship the year before and we made it to state again last year largely due to their leadership.
“But I have confidence in the seniors we have.”
Kinderknecht said the program is solid from a numbers standpoint, including an athletic group of sophomores that will compete for spots on varsity this year.
“We have seven seniors, five juniors and two sophomores currently suiting up for varsity right now, but we have lots of other sophomores that are trying to break the gates open,” she said. “We’re blessed with numbers. Now it’s my job to decide what six — what team is going to be the best out there on the court.”
Replacing all the departed seniors will be tough, but none tougher than hitter Mari Jo Massanet, who made the all-state team along with Sarah Tatarko.
“Aubrey will step in and we’ve got several outside hitters that are hoping to fill the shoes of MJ,” she said. “But it’s a hard nucleus to replace, because the two years that I’ve been here they all played for me.”
Kayla Shields, Colbi Brooks and Allie Massanet all return for their final year, along with Taylor Good, Shelby Hill and Maddie Winkler. Kenzie Denver returns after injuries slowed her down last season.
Kinderknecht will also rely on a handful of younger players who have been waiting their turn.
“There’s Michaela Braun, who wasn’t apart of varsity last year but I see her getting some playing time,” she said. “Then we have a couple of sophomores that are with us, Matty Mahan and Kenzie Miller. So we have 14 there that could see some playing time.”
Despite losing so many veterans, the team’s goal remains the same.
“There’s a lot of tradition and I hope to keep building on it,” Kinderknecht said. “Our league continues to get better and better and even though some of them aren’t at the 6A level, several of those schools go to the 5A state tournaments. So hopefully we can build on what the program has already established.”
Of course, no team wants to be the one that lowers the bar after sustained success. This Indians team is no different.
“The girls have that pride,” Kinderknecht said. “Those seniors want to leave the next legacy.”
Manhattan opens its season Thursday with a trip to Topeka Seaman. The Indians’ first home meet is a triangular with Clay Center and Rossville on Sept. 11.