County rivals to team up at Manchester
Walker, Bieghler joining forces
Abby Walker and Miranda Bieghler have been opponents on the basketball court for the past four year, with Walker playing for Cloverdale and Bieghler as a South Putnam Eagle.
Their rivalry hit its apex last year when their teams met in the sectional championship game, won by Bieghler and the Eagles.
Past encounters are now forgotten, and the pair of all-Putnam County guards will become teammates next winter at Manchester College.
Walker was the first to declare her intentions to become a Spartan, telling the Manchester coach last fall of her plans.
Bieghler became interested in the northern Indiana Division III school later on, still not knowing of Walker’s decision.
“I don’t know her that well yet, but I’m getting to know her better,’ Walker said. “We are both going on an overnight visit next month. She’s a really good player, and it’s cool that two girls from Putnam County are going to be on the same team.”
“I didn’t really know she was going there until I committed,” she said. “It’s nice to have someone there who I know, and can share rides with.”
For both players, making the decision official was a day they had both been looking forward to arriving.
“I wasn’t really sure when I started high school that I would get to play college basketball,” Walker said. “I’m excited I get to play. I loved it when I visited there, and it felt like home — I’d rather go there than a big school.”
Bieghler, a three-time all-Putnam County player, has always had a dream of playing college basketball.
“Not many people get to do that, and it’s pretty special,” she said. “I picked Manchester because I loved the atmosphere there, and the elementary education program is really good.”
Walker averaged 10.3 points per game this year in helping the Clovers set a school record for wins in a season with 17.
She was named to the all-Putnam County team for the second straight year.
Bieghler averaged 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.6 points per game — finishing as the second-leading career scorer in school history.
Walker plans to major in sports management, with the goal of being a sports agent.
She looks back favorably upon her high school career.
“My first two years, we didn’t win too many games ,” Walker said. “When this sophomore class came in last year, we started winning more games and came close to winning the sectional.”
Walker is a 3-point shooting specialist, hitting 69 of 185 this season (37 percent) and 182 for her career.
“I’m going to need to work on my ballhandling and my speed a lot,” she said. “They will be giving me a workout packet, and I’m working with a trainer right now.”
Walker’s shot, in which she puts her hands on top of the ball and flicks it upwards with backspin, would be considered unorthodox by some shooting coaches — but the accuracy she shows has caused her to not change it.
“I just started shooting that way when I was younger,” she said. “Lots of people have told me to change it and get a higher release, but it goes in. It’s just stuck with me.”
Manchester, which competes in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, finished with a 7-18 record this year.
“They haven’t won a lot of games recently, but we’re getting a lot of new players this year,” Walker said. “They didn’t have any seniors this year, and they’re building the program up.”
Bieghler also plans to work on her strength and quickness in order to make the jump to the next level.
“That’s the biggest difference,” she said. “The talent difference isn’t that much, but it’s the quickness of the game that is the biggest difference.”
Josh Dzurick is in his 14th year as head coach of the Spartans.
“He’s a great coach,” Bieghler said. “It’s good that we are on a conference with Rose-Hulman and several other teams in Indiana.
“I know the point guard is coming back next year,” she continued. “But they only had one. They told me I could play point guard or shooting guard.”
While Bieghler is well-rounded in all facets of the game, the area in which she excels most is at the free throw line — hitting 85 percent of her attempts this season, including 15 of 17 in her final high school game at the regional tourney.
“At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t hitting as many of them as I wanted to,” she said. “I started staying at practice as long as it took me to hit 10 in a row, and that really helped a lot.”
Bieghler and the Eagles won sectional titles the past two years, and she finished — along with teammate Lillie Stein — with more than 1,000 career points.
“It was nice to get to 1,000 points,” she said. “I never imagined I could become the second-leading scorer in school history. That’s just crazy.”
Their high school coaches will both miss them, but predict continued success in the future.
“Miranda is going to do a great job for them, because she’s the ultimate team player,” South Putnam coach Brian Gardner said. “People might have looked at her scoring average this year and think she had a bad year, but she actually took that step where she did a great job of getting everyone in the right position and getting them the ball so they could score.
“She didn’t score as many points, but I think she had a better year than her junior year,” Gardner added. “She did everything you want a player to do as a coach. That’s going to translate well to the next level.”
Gardner said Bieghler’s adaptation to a team-oriented role has not gone unnoticed.
“It shows in the classroom, and when she goes to work with our elementary school students,” he said. “Many of them look up to Miranda as a role model because she’s always there and takes part in what they‘re doing.”
Gardner said that Bieghler’s “uncanny” ability to get to the free throw line, and then hit them at a high rate, adds to her list of positives.
“That’s an ability for her to be able to get there, but also a tribute to the hours she has put in working on her shot,” he said. “At the college level, that aspect is something where she can get to the rim and get points for her team.”
Cloverdale coach Matthew Langdon is still stunned at Walker’s career 3-point total.
“To have 69 just this year, that’s a big number,” he said. “To have 182 for your career is truly remarkable. She had already played three or four years of varsity basketball, and teams knew they had to get out on her — but she was able to hit them any way.”
Langdon recalls meeting Walker in middle school, and was immediately impressed.
“She would just hang out around the team, and they just loved her,” he said. “She would shoot with them and hit a lot of threes, and what’s when we started calling her ‘Cash Money’, and it just stuck.
“I’ve never heard anything bad said about her by anyone,” added Langdon, who also coached Walker in golf for a few seasons. “She’s just a great kid that you love to coach. ”When kids like her graduate, you’re going to miss the threes but you’re going to miss the kid even more.”
Langdon said colleges now want specialists, and Walker’s 3-point shooting will be highly applicable at the next level.
“It’s great if you can get six-footers who can do everything, but that’s not always going to happen at the Division III level,” he said. “If not, then they want people with specific skills like shooting. That’s what will benefit her at this level. She’s put in so much time on her own that I think she will work hard enough to turn some heads early on, and hopefully earn a spot at some point.”
Langdon said that Walker’s success at the college level will largely depend on her ability to get open looks.
“There will be some bigger players defending her,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of height around here, especially at the guard position and that will be a big adjustment for her. It definitely helped her to be able to play AAU and go up against some bigger defenders.”
Walker and Bieghler cannot report to school to start taking classes until August, with the other students, but plan to make the 2.5-hour trip for open gym sessions with their new teammates frequently this summer.