West Branch junior Tatum KoenigBy Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Each member of the three-person West Branch back court has a unique strength.
Tatum Koenig is a playmaker and the Bears’ top scorer.
Haley Mullinnix is a ball handler and a slick passer while Paige Miller has a reputation as a tenacious defender.
“We have different strengths,” Koenig explained. “Paige is a great defender, she will be key there. Haley can handle the ball, attack and shoot. She can do everything and the same with me.”
It is the one thing that each of the trio possess that is most important to West Branch coach Jarod Tylee.
Koenig, Mullinnix and Miller are the only players that return with experience from last year’s team that reached the state tournament for the second time in program history.
Each of the backcourt trio will have an expanded role this season as West Branch attempts to build on the success of last season’s 21-4 record.
“We are going to lean on our guards who are experienced players,” Tylee said. “If we want to get to where we want to be our post players need to move along quickly but our guards are what is going to carry us to start with.”
How important is the experience factor that Miller, Mullinnix and Koenig bring to the court?
West Branch lost three starters and five of its top seven players from a season ago to graduation.
West Branch senior Haley Mullinnix
The guard trio are the only three players on the West Branch roster than scored more than 10 points last season.
“The experience for those three is really invaluable for us,” Tylee said. “If we are going to bring some experience back we want it to be the people bring the ball up the floor and making the decisions for us and that is what we have with those three. Not only that they are our creators and our shooters.”
Koenig is the top returning scorer for the Bears after averaging 12.7 points per game last season as a sophomore.
A dynamic athlete, the 5-foot-6 Koenig led West Branch with 77 assists a year ago and is one of the top guards in Class 2A.
Already a three-year contributor the 5-foot-4 Mullinnix senior is the most experienced of the bunch and is coming off the best season of her career.
Mullinnix was third on the team with 9.1 points per game last season and was second behind Koenig with 72 assists.
“Haley and Tatum are great guards and they can pretty much do anything,” Miller said. “I think we all work really hard to help everyone else open and get ourselves open as well.”
Miller jumps into the starting lineup after coming off the bench the past two seasons.
The 5-foot-6 senior averaged 2.8 points per game last year and had 20 points in a postseason win two seasons ago.
West Branch senior Paige Miller
“Paige is kind of the unsung one,” Tylee said. “She has kind of been held back just because there have been some really good basketball players in front of her but I’m looking for her to break out and have a really good year this year.”
Individually the trio has solid resumes.
Together the group forms one of the most formidable backcourts in 2A.
“I think a lot of teams are going to have trouble stopping us three,” Mullinnix said. “It definitely helps having them, it makes us that much more difficult to defend.”
West Branch will need big seasons from its veteran backcourt after the loss of five seniors.
The Bears aren’t focused on who is missing from last year’s team that lost to state champion Unity Christian in the 2A quarterfinals but rather who returns.
“Our success last year really made us want to come back and improve even more and see how far we can go,” Miller said. “Especially because people are probably not going to be looking at us very highly because we lost so many people but we are still reaching for the same goal.”