Excitement is in the air in Magnolia High School's girls' basketball program this season, as 20 came out for the team, including 19 freshmen and sophomores, one junior, and no seniors.
Magnolia has moved into Class-A this year from Class-AA last year because of a reduced student population. No longer will the Lady Eagles compete with the likes of Weir and Oak Glen, but they will have to face long-time Class-A basketball powers Wheeling Central and Bishop Donahue.
MHS Head Girls' Basketball Coach Dave Chapman, in his sixth season, will need to replace graduated point guard Dallas Mullett. With only one junior out this season, underclassmen will need to quickly mature if they want to better their record from a season ago.
Junior all-stater Mallory Chapman (5'10") will be called upon to lead the young Lady Eagles. She works the perimeter, while sophomore Jasmine Litton (5'8") takes over the post position. Expecting to join them in the starting rotation are sophomores Katie Blatt (5'8") at point, while Audrey Gibb (5'6"); Kiera Standiford (5'9"); and Abby Durig (5'3") will vie for the remaining two starting positions.
"They sure work hard," said Chapman of all his players, adding that all six of these girls can emerge as consistent double-figure scorers. The Blue Eagle coach hopes that his young squad will commit fewer turnovers than they have in recent seasons. "I think they'll improve fast, judging by how they've practiced," Chapman observed.
"We seem to have a good mentality on valuing possession of the basketball," he explained. "They will all dive on the floor to get loose balls. Our guards have the skills, but they're going to benefit from the hustle by getting wide open jump shots. I think we'll be even more balanced than we were last season."
Gibb is a slasher and an excellent defender that brings her energy and a high motor, while Chapman believes that Blatt will be able to fill Mullett's shoes. And, if she can knock down shots from outside on a regular basis, teams will have a difficult time playing zone against them.
Standiford is a tall and lanky player that just got better and better as the season progressed last year and will only get better every time she enters the court. Litton has a knack of finding the ball and putting it back up, She is working on her defense and her outside game. If she can learn to use her frame to keep defenders away and not put the ball on the floor, watch out.
Durig missed last season because of an injury but has recovered nicely and is challenging for a starting job. But, whoever doesn't start will see plenty of playing time.
A balanced scoring attack from each position will make Mallory most difficult to defend. On any night, Magnolia has a group of four or five girls that could put up double digit points a game, which makes it hard to guard this group of young girls.
Coach Chapman expects to have balanced scoring and could have a different scoring leader each night. But, it's nice to have that go-to girl when you need a basket or to make a run. Coach Chapman has that in his daughter, Mallory, who has the knack of getting open and drain a shot from the outside, as well as in the paint-a nice threat to have at a coach's disposal, if and when needed.
Who will lead the team in scoring is anyone's guess. Magnolia will look to create its offense from its defense. The Lady Eagles may prove better at attacking the basket than trying to score from the outside. "We are pretty young, so we are trying to mesh as a team still. If we continue to improve, it could be an interesting and rewarding season," added Chapman.
Youngsters Blatt, Gibb, Standiford, and Litton saw a lot of court time last season and that should help them get off to a quick start.
With Blatt, Gibb, and Standiford playing like upperclassmen, the others should feed off their energy. All three know what to do in any circumstance. They each can handle the ball well and have a nice stoke when shooting. Along with Mallory, they can play about any position on the court.
"All these girls' work ethic is unreal," added Chapman. "And I believe that Mallory, Standiford, Blatt, Durig, and Gibb successes during volleyball season has rubbed off on the other players. Coach (Steve) Ross and I are as excited as they are on how well they are doing this early in the season." Ross also is the school's girls' track coach.
With so many players out, it gives the Lady Eagles a chance to work on their game and bring themselves up slowly to the varsity team. As jayvee coach, Ross will inherit Shannon Williams (5'7"); Brittany Nice (5'7"); Lisa Patel (5'5"); and Krysta Henderson (5'3"). There will be eight freshman on the team, including the talented Grace Berisford (5'4"), who will also get some varsity experience. Others are Cedar Sands (5'5"); Courtney Slider (5'5"); Rachel Arbogast (5'5"); Anna Gibb (5'4"); Sofia Herrick (5'5"); Cierra Fowler (5'8"); and Evan Dawson, (5'2").
"The junior varsity players will finally get to develop and fine-tune their skills and every player will get to see major minutes of playing time," said Chapman. "It's a big adjustment from junior high to high school and we have very capable coaches there that get the girls ready for high school and the faster pace of the game."
Chapman concluded, "In a nutshell, the girls are getting better each day. They trust in what we tell them and they trust each other. It's an outstanding atmosphere here. That's all I can ask for. It's refreshing. It's refreshing to come to practice every day. My team has a high basketball IQ."
The Lady Eagles play a demanding schedule that will benefit them down the road when the second season arrives. The ladies open their season against the Paden City Lady 'Cats Nov. 27.
The JV contest gets underway at 6 p.m., with the varsity challenge to follow.