Excitement is in the air in Magnolia High School's girls' basketball program this season, as 15 players came out for the team. They include six freshmen, four sophomores, four juniors, and only one senior. However that senior is none other than multi-sport standout Mallory Chapman.
Chapman is a four-year starter, who scored at a clip of 18.9 points a game last year and broke the school's all-time single game scoring record when she sank 43 points in a 79-33 victory against Paden City in January.
Magnolia, who moved into Class-A last year because of a reduced student population, will still play bigger schools like Weir and Oak Glen, and must face long-time Class-A basketball powers Wheeling Central and St. Marys if they want to return to the state tournament.
MHS Head Girls' Basketball Coach Mark Blair, in his first full season, and veteran assistant coach Tom Tisher, will try to improve last year's 11-13 record with the same players he ended with plus six top-notch freshmen recruits.
If Magnolia wants to get off to a fast start, Blair will need to rely on senior captain Chapman and juniors Kiera Standiford, Audrey Gibb, Katie Blatt and Abby Durig. Then, add sophomore Grace Berisford, who lit it up in the second half of the season a year ago, and Ciera Fowler off the bench, along with Anna Gibb.
The Lady Eagles went on a nice run late last season and came one game shy of making it to The Dance in a loss to St. Marys in the regional finals.
Chapman, a 5'10" all-stater, will be called into a leadership role on the team as she works the perimeter. Standiford, also 5'10", will take over the post, Berisford (5'5") at guard, while Audrey Gibb (5'6"), and Fowler (5'9") look to be the forwards and 5'3" Durig coming off the bench.
"They sure work hard," said Blair of all his players, adding that all six of the girls can emerge as consistent double-figure scorers. The Blue Eagle coach also 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," Blair observed.
"I plan on using an 8-9 rotation," Blair explained. "I think we'll be even more balanced than we were last season. Our motto is to not worry about who starts, worry about who finishes. I am very happy with our freshmen. I hope they all stay together and continue to work hard."
Chapman's baby sister, Kelsi, along with Taylor Ludewig, Taylor Seckman, Autumn Cecil, Jordan Dulaney, and Morgan Pingley, will play a lot of junior varsity ball and hope to earn some playing time on the varsity squad, as well.
These girls will gain valuable experience playing jayvee ball under Tisher and have opportunities to prove that they can compete before Blair puts them into the fire at the varsity level.
Audrey Gibb is a slasher and an excellent defender that brings her energy and a high-performance motor. And Blair believes that Blatt will handle the rock again and play tough defense. If Berisford can keep knocking down shots from outside on a regular basis, opponents 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 this season. She is a shot blocker and a nice scorer inside. Along with Fowler and Mallory Chapman, Magnolia has two nice post players.
A balanced scoring attack from each position will make Mallory Chapman 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.
Blair 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, who can get open and drain a shot from the outside or inside. That's a great offensive weapon for a coach to use 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," Blair observed. "If we continue to improve, it could be an interesting and rewarding season."
Experienced youngsters like Blatt, Standiford, and Audrey Gibb, who saw a lot of court time last season, should help the Lady Eagles get off to a quick start. With these girls playing like upperclassmen, the others should feed off their energy. All three of the girls know what to do in any circumstance. They each can handle the ball well and have a nice stroke when shooting. Along with Mallory, they can play about any position on the court.
With six exceptional freshmen players out, it gives the Lady Eagles a chance to work on their game and bring themselves up slowly to the varsity level.
"The junior varsity players will get to develop and fine-tune their skills and every player will get to see major minutes of playing time," said Blair. "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."
Blair 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."
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 Monroe Central Seminoles, Dec. 5 in Woodsfield. The JV contest gets underway at 6 p.m., with the varsity challenge to follow.
Their first home games are Dec. 10 and Dec. 12 against Wheeling Central and Oak Glen with all ball games getting underway at 6 p.m.