HORNET PREVIEW: Canen, Stemmer Lead a Young Saline Girls' Basketball Team

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Coach Leigh Ann Roehm isn't talking about a third straight district championship, or a second straight SEC Red championship as her Saline girls' varsity basketball team gets set to take the court and start the 2021-22 season.

After all, this is a team that graduated three starters, including Ella Stemmer, the first first-team all-state selection in Saline basketball history.

If you've listened to coach Roehm over the years, you know that championships are built on the foundation of something else.

"This year, it’s all about the ‘ships. But not the ‘ships you may be thinking of. It’s all about the relationships,"  Roehm said. "With half of our players being new to our team, our biggest goal is investing the time in each other to build the family vibe that we’ve made tradition over the last years."

That's not to say the Hornets don't have high aspirations. The Hornets boast returning starters senior Sophie Canen and sophomore Kate Stemmer. Junior Beth Ann Ford has also played a role during the most successful stretch Saline girls' basketball has enjoyed since the late 1980s. 

"We have high expectations for our level of play and expect to compete for district and conference championships, but there is no way we get there without building our bonds as teammates to the 'fiercely united' level," Roehm said. "This group of athletes is committed to that and I am loving watching our chemistry develop."

Last year, the Hornets went 15-1 in the regular season to win their first conference championship since 2002. Over the last two years, the Hornets are 40-4, with two district championships.

Saline opens the season when hosting Livonia Stevenson at 7 p.m., Tuesday. Roehm said starting lineups may vary through the season, depending on matchups. But on opening night, the starters will be Canen, Stemmer, Ford, junior Taylor Kangas and senior Ella Dean. 

They're joined on the team by senior Josie Cayen, juniors Kailee Cahill, Anna Hesse, Autumn Larsen and Payton Maloney, sophomore Hadley Griffin, and freshman Kadyn Maida.

Leading the charge for the Hornets is Canen. After a tremendous offseason following her sophomore year, Canen took her game to a new level as a junior, averaging 15 points a game, rebounding and dishing the ball, too. She was first-team All-SEC and earned all-state honorable mention.

Roehm said Canen has had an even more impressive offseason this year.

"If you can even believe it’s possible, Sophie made a bigger jump from last year to this year than she did in between her sophomore and junior campaign," Roehm said. "Her shot has become super consistent and the game has just slowed down for her. Combine her talent and athleticism with her clear confidence and consistency, and I believe she is going to have a monster year. She is ready to lead! I’d go into battle with Sophie any day!"

The other returning starter from last year's playoff run is Stemmer. As a freshman, Stemmer not only won a starting job on one of the state's top teams, her wicked defense earned her all-conference honorable mention. Roehm said she believes Stemmer will take her game to an even higher level as a sophomore.

"You’ll continue to see her as an elite defender, controlling the game with her pressure and speed. This year you will get to see her take a big role on offense as well," Roehm said. "She has really developed an attack off the bounce and continues to be a great 3-point shooter. She’s going to be a handful in transition. She’s taken on a much more vocal role as well and is a clear leader. She’s going to have a big year!"

Ford, a junior, has been with the varsity club since her freshman year. Roehm said Ford has always been consistent in effort and with defense.

"She has really made a jump at the offensive end. Look for her to play a bigger role in putting the ball in the bucket," Roehm said.

Taylor Kangas provided energy off the bench last year as a sophomore. Roehm sees a bigger role for her this year, as evidenced by her starting role on opening night.

"Taylor Kangas is ready to shine! She has not only grown in skill, but in height - adding 3 inches in height since last season," Roehm said. "She makes our team go. She pushes the ball and makes her teammates better. She has excellent court awareness and a swag that makes her so fun to watch. I cant wait to see her turn heads in the SEC."

Also starting Tuesday is Ella Dean, who came off the bench for last year's team. Roehm said Dean has made great strides in the offseason.

"This kid has put in so much time in the gym and in the weight room, she has completely transformed her game," Roehm said. "She’s always been a terrific teammate and great 3-point shooter, but she has evolved into one of our best defenders, as well. She has just done the work, day-in and day-out, that it takes. Younger players should really look to her as an example of what is possible if you have a great attitude and are willing to put in the work."

Josie Cayen is the other senior on the team. She flashed shooting ability last year. 

"When she is hot, she is fire! I predict she has multiple games where she hits multiple 3s. Josie loves sharing the ball and absolutely loves her teammates," Roehm said.

The rest of the team is new to varsity.

Junior Anna Hesse is known for her volleyball prowess. She played JV basketball last year.

"Anna Hesse just keeps getting better and better. She’s long and has excellent timing to block shots. She goes after every rebound and gets us lots of extra possessions. She has a nice outside shot and is building confidence daily." Roehm said. "I expect her growth to be exponential as the season progresses."

Fellow junior Payton Maloney, known for her field hockey skills, also played JV basketball last year.

"Payton Maloney is an elite athlete and great defender. She moves and shares the ball on offense and runs the floor well. She has a nice outside shot and can take it to the rim if overplayed," Roehm said.

Junior Kailee Cahill had several big games for the JV squad last year.

"Kailee Cahill is a great athlete and just plays hard. She’s a solid defender, can hit the open 3 and has some nice moves around the rim." Roehm said. "She’s already made a lot of growth and that will continue as the season progresses."

Autumn Larsen also made the jump from JV to varsity.

"Autumn Larsen is injured right now but brings so much heart and energy to the team. She is always vocal and when she returns, you’ll see her knocking down some 3s," Roehm said.

Sophomore Hadley Griffin also earned the call up to varsity.

"Hadley Griffin is a true competitor! She is an excellent defender and a great rebounder for her size," Roehm said. "She is a great teammate and always makes the extra pass. She can hit the open 3 and has a nice floater."

Last but not least is freshman Kaidyn Maida, who impressed Roehm during the pre-season camp.

"Kadyn is a kid that loves the game and puts in lots of extra time working on her game. She is very versatile. A tall wing, she can defend the post and guard spot. She is very athletic and crafty on her drives around the rim," Roehm said. "She also has a natural defensive IQ and understands rotations far beyond her years."

As two-time defending district champs and reigning SEC Red champs, nobody's going to overlook the Hornets. Many opponents will see Saline as a game to measure their progress. Roehm knows teams will come out hard to prove themselves against the Hornets.

"There will be a lot of new faces gracing the floor this year and there is a lot to be learned during the grind of the SEC Red. What I can tell you is that during our summer and fall scrimmages, these players have shown that they will compete with anyone," Roehm said. "I’m excited to watch their development. With this team more than other years, I predict huge growth over the course of the year as the newcomers gain game-time experience."

Athlete First Name Athlete Last Name Grade Jersey Number
Kailee Cahill 11 35
Sophie Canen 12 23
Josie Cayen 12 3
Ella Dean 12 21
Hadley Griffin 10 33
Anna Hesse 11 32
Beth Ann Ford 11 11
Taylor Kangas 11 4
Autumn Larsen 11 42
Kadyn Maida 9 1
Payton Maloney 11 10
Kate Stemmer 10 5
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