Spartans ascending: girls basketball furnished with youthJan 27, 2017 03:57PM ● By Travis Barton
Sophomore Brei Rodriguez defends the Hillcrest point guard. The Spartans recorded 20 steals in their 47-45 victory over Hillcrest. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
With four sophomores in the starting lineup for the Murray High School girls basketball team, the Spartans season has been a literal baptism by fire.
“There’s a process and I knew there would be with this group. The learning curve, they’ve handled it well and they’re starting to see those flashes of greatness,” said third-year head coach Holly Gillette.
That process included a brutal preseason that saw the Spartans go 1-7. Six of those eight teams currently have winning records. It was a schedule Gillette did purposefully to give her young team plenty of experience.
“We played a lot of tough teams so I feel like we were more prepared than what we would have been if we played easier teams,” said sophomore center Isis Beh.
With only one returning varsity player in senior captain Rylee Moore (senior Jurnee Murray suffered a knee injury), Gillette said she knew there would be growing pains, but the girls would learn from them.
“We’re just getting better and understanding the level, the intensity that it takes. What the difference at the varsity level (is), the aggression, the work ethic it takes. It’s just taken some time,” Gillette said noting the girls are no longer intimidated, but comfortable in their roles.
Moore said it was a little weird to start the season with such a new team but they’ve come together as the season has evolved.
“We just really learned to get used to each other and understand each other and what we’re going to do,” Moore said.
While the Spartans may have started with seven losses in eight games, that preparation boded well for region play where as of Jan. 19 the team was 3-2 with wins over Hillcrest, Olympus and Cyprus.
“Our region has improved. Skyline is up there but there’s a little more parity with the next four or five teams. Anybody can beat anybody and I’m trying to keep them focused on one game at a time,” Gillette said.
The game by game approach is one adopted by the girls as they hold specific goals for each contest. Those include 75 percent free throw shooting, have less than 10 turnovers, allow no more than eight offensive rebounds by the opposition and limit opponents to under 10 points every quarter.
Moore said while they still need to improve free throws, they are much improved with the other goals. For Gillette, rebounding and turnovers have been key.
“Games where we’ve controlled the boards and kept our turnovers low, we’ve either been right there or we’ve won,” Gillette said. Moore, a 5-foot-6-inch guard, has epitomized that by being one of the team’s leading rebounders.
Gillette said the team has a nice mix of guards and post players, especially inside where Beh has made her presence known averaging 10 points and seven rebounds a game. “Isis and Rylee are doing a great job,” she said.
The team’s greatest strength, however, may lie defensively. The Spartans recorded 20 steals in their home game against Hillcrest.
“We’re trying to make that our focus defensively, hopefully that’s going to create points…our guards have played fabulous defense,” Gillette said. And it’s not just steals, Beh provided plenty of blocked shots down the stretch in that same Hillcrest game.
“I’m also a volleyball player, so I guess it’s natural for me to hit a ball if it’s in front of me,” Beh said.
The team is optimistic about its goal to qualify for state, hopefully as a two or three seed. The Spartans first round opponent would be from Region 8, it’s the reason Gillette scheduled three teams from that region in preseason.
“Once we get to state (tournament) anything can happen… I wanna get them to state, get them a taste of state,” Gillette said.
To get there, coach and players agreed they will have to fulfill their goal of outworking their opponents.
“They work hard without me begging it out of them…they come in and work their tails off,” Gillette said.