Photo by Diane Cox
The 2015-2016 EA-WR girls varsity basketball team. Front row: Becca Renken, Courtney Beneke, Riley Wallendorff. Middle row: Sydney Slayden, Kaitlin Goodbrake, Anna Stangle, Caitlin LeMond, Rachel Blasioli. Back Row: Marcheryl Slattery, Jessie Gilland, Krizza Domingo, Abbie Cathey, Maegan Wallendorff, Carly Campbell.
New East Alton-Wood River Oiler girls' basketball coach Emily Van Natta certainly made her mark on the program as a player. Now she looks to do it as a coach.
Van Natta, formerly Emily Best and a 2005 graduate of EA-WR, set a school record in scoring with 1,697 points during her varsity career. She then went on to play college basketball at McKendree University in Lebanon. She hopes that her career can serve as a template for the players in the program now and the Oilers can vastly build upon their 4-21 campaign from a year ago.
“I think it helps the girls,” Van Natta said. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with male coaches, but they haven’t had a female here in a while and from what I’ve heard the program has been down and there hasn’t been a lot of participation. Sometimes girls need a good role model and I can say that I went to this high school and ended up going to college and my college was paid for through basketball. It’s not like you can’t do it in a small town like this because I did it.”
After McKendree, Van Natta coached grade school basketball in Wood River and then served as an assistant high school coach in Pickneyville.
“It’s a little challenging, I have to get used to the administrative side,” Van Natta said. “But I know basketball in and out. I made the transition from player to coach in being an assistant.”
The Oilers have three seniors this year: point guard Becca Renken, guard Riley Wallendorff and post player Courtney Beneke. All earned a significant amount of varsity playing time last year and in prior years. Beneke started playing varsity as a freshman.
“I think we’ve built a lot of chemistry, especially with our juniors,” Beneke said. “We have new plays. It’s a fresh start — we should do well.”
Like Beneke, Wallendorff started playing varsity as a freshman. She said she wanted to put more points on the board this year. When it comes to goals, Renken said she wants to win more games and score more points.
Junior post-player Abbie Cathey and guard Carley Campbell will most likely earn some varsity playing time in their respective positions. EA-WR will experience a youth movement this year, as Van Natta said freshmen will see some varsity playing time, but she’s unable to say which freshmen will play where at this early time in the 2015-2016 campaign. Van Natta complimented the work rate in early practices.
“They’re really excited, they’re ready to go,” she said. “I don’t know what they did last year, but I think there’s a difference. I stress talking with them to make practices loud. Girls like being loud, if you give them an opportunity to do it. I’m a girl and I can show them I can be loud. They’ve been energetic and they’ve stepped up to the plate when I’ve asked them to run and run and run.”
The Oilers opened the '15-16 season in the Dupo Cat Classic this week. On Monday they opened with a 49-31 loss to the host Tigers in Dupo. They were scheduled to play Marissa in the loser's bracket at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The tournament concludes on Saturday and then EA-WR opens the Prairie State Conference portion of the year with Marquette Catholic at 7:30 p.m. at home on Monday.
During Van Natta’s playing career the Oilers competed in the South Central Conference. After spending a few years as an independent school, EA-WR landed in the PSC where they face Metro East Lutheran, Mount Olive, Bunker Hill, Nokomis and Marquette in basketball.
NAME HT POS
Courtney Beneke 5-9 F
Becca Renken 5-6 G
Riley Wallendorff 5-8 G
Carly Campbell 5-5 G
Abbie Cathey 5-10 F
Marcheryl Slattery 5-9 F
Anna Stangle 5-4 G
Krizza Domingo 5-10 F
Kaitlin Goodbrake 5-2 G
Caitlin LeMond 5-4 G
Sydney Slattery 5-9 F
Maegan Wallendorf 5-7 G