That’s an entire career in a school system’s worth of athletic competition for most people.
And for the New Boston Tigers’ girls basketball program, it also represents the last time New Boston was at this realm.
That realm, you ask? The Division IV, Jackson I District Finals. The opponent? The No. 1 team in the Division IV AP Poll, Waterford. And what will New Boston accomplish if it clears the hurdle? Newfound heights hardly seen before in the history of the program.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been in this situation, so it means a lot to our girls, our school, and our community,” New Boston head coach Kayla Wiley said. “We’ve got a lot of support behind us, so I believe that’s a great thing for the school and for the program itself.”
To clear said hurdle, however, New Boston will have to slow down a potent Waterford attack. The Lady ‘Cats, who are led by Megan Ball, Alli Kern, and Rachael Adams, average well over 60 points per game — and give up just 25 points per affair — behind Ball and Kern, two point forwards who can handle the rock out front or back players down in the low post, and Adams, who is one of the best three-point shooters one will find in the Southeast District.
The threat that each of those three players provide — and how well they play off of each other — has forced the third-year leader to adjust her coaching style for the Lady Tigers, who are an up-tempo unit themselves.
“In practice, we’ve been emphasizing the importance of transition defense and boxing out,” Wiley said. “We really want to try to keep Waterford off of the boards and slow the pace down. We’ve all talked about controlling the tempo, and while that’s something that Waterford does a very good job at, I’m hoping that we can control the tempo of the game.”
And with a litany of talent, along with the appropriate size to match up with Ball and Kern, New Boston has the pieces to do exactly that.
Mariah Buckley (19 points, four rebounds, 3.5 assists, three steals) plays with no fear at the point guard position and operates the pick and roll as well as any guard in the Southeast District. Ali Hamilton (16 points, nine rebounds, four assists, 2.5 steals) is a big who uses her 6-0 frame well in the low post but can step out and nail the 15-foot jumper or guard opposing players out to the three-point line. And Kaylee Stone, along with Peyton Helphinstine, have combined to average 21 points, 13 rebounds per contest, and a strong seven steals per contest on their own as two-way players who can knock down deep three-point jump shots and play excellent on-ball defense.
However, even behind the main quartet, the Lady Tigers’ supporting cast is arguably as strong, if not stronger, than Waterford’s. Bri Humble and Taylen Hickman, who have alternated the fifth starting spot throughout the second half of the season, bring consistent energy and hustle to the table with their presences on the floor, while sisters Lexus and Sammy Oiler can spread the floor with their silky-smooth jump shots. Between all of them, the Lady Tigers have an eight-man rotation that makes New Boston as deep as any team out there.
“It’s a very good thing for me, as a coach, to have,” Wiley said. “You’ve got players who are not only going to score when their number is called to do score, but they’re going to rebound, defend, and embrace the so-called little things that are necessary to win basketball games. They’re going to be active in every category because they want to win. It’s always nice when you have more than just a couple of players who can do that, especially when that’s present all up and down the roster.”
New Boston, however, has more than just talent. They have heart.
When Helphinstine and Humble transferred in from East to New Boston to begin their senior seasons, jealousy over who obtained the most touches — especially with All-District talents in Buckley, Hamilton, and Stone coming back for their senior seasons — could’ve occurred.
But it didn’t. In fact, the opposite happened, and that was evident when the group camped at Coastal Carolina together this past summer in Conway, S.C.
“Going to camp is great for team-building, but it was especially good (at Coastal Carolina) because we got to go down there, stay overnight, experience the ocean, and stuff like that as a whole group,” Wiley said. “That helped a lot. We got to do a whole lot of team-building activities, and who doesn’t like to do that on the beach? That really helped with Peyton and Bri moving in (from East) as well as with the freshmen that we dressed coming up. That really helped the overall chemistry of the team. It really started there, and the girls have continued to put in the effort into building bonds with each other. It’s a family thing.”
That chemistry, which comes through the unselfishness that each of the girls have on the roster, has been evident in the toughness that Buckley, Hamilton, Stone, and Humble, among others, have battled through sickness, injury, or personal loss. And win or lose, one can expect it to be evident in spades when the opening tip comes about on Thursday evening against Waterford — win or lose.
“We want to be considered as the underdog,” Wiley said. “We embrace that role. Any team, from here on out, can be beat on any given night if you play good and play to your potential. We have a lot of potential. We’ve had some bad shooting nights and some bad games, but overall, every time that it’s come down to crunch time, we’ve battled back. Unfortunately, we’ve had to go through a lot of adversity, but these girls have overcome a lot. That’s what makes me proud. They’re great people and they’re great teammates.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT