Since its inception, the Minford Falcons’ girls basketball program has fielded a lot of special programs.
Very few of them, however, have been as special as the 2017-18 Minford Lady Falcons.
With a gritty do-it-all point guard in Erin Daniels, two sizeable post presences whose games mix-and-match well on the floor in Ashley Blankenship and Caitlyn Puckett, and a host of additional players who embrace their roles, the 23-1 Lady Falcons have a chance to join a level that few Minford programs across all of the offered sports have reached — regional play.
To do that, however, the No. 1-seeded Lady Falcons will have to slow down the effectiveness of Ella Skeens and her supporting cast that is present on the No. 2-seeded Chillicothe Southeastern Lady Panthers’ girls basketball program when the pair tip off the Division III, Waverly I Sectional Final affair that will be played on Saturday afternoon at 12 p.m. at Waverly High School.
As Caudill has seen firsthand with Daniels, players as good as Skeens — a Dayton signee — can only be contained, not stopped. So the third-year head coach plans to focus on pressuring the additional four players on the floor when Skeens has to give up the basketball.
“We have great respect for Ella Skeens,” Caudill said. “She’s a heck of a basketball player and a heck of a person. However, what we really want to do is pressure everybody else. We feel like her and Erin cancel each other out, so we need to use our depth and our multi-dimensional abilities to gain an advantage. We really feel like we’ve got the athletic advantage and the height advantage. We want to pressure the additional role players whenever they have the basketball and really take advantage of that second four. It’s going to be a really good basketball game, but we’ve got to take advantage of their weaknesses. It’s going to be a different style than we’re used to, so we’re going to try and wreak havoc this week. We’ve really got to get out and pressure the basketball moreso than what we have in the past.”
While most of the attention will go to Daniels — and rightfully so, considering that the senior is averaging 21 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 4.2 steals per game — Minford has starting-caliber talent all up and down its roster.
In fact, Caudill wants the Lady Falcons to get Blankenship (16 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.8 blocks) and Puckett (nine points, 8.9 rebounds, four steals per game) more involved earlier on in games. The earlier involvement of the pair would allow for the necessary offensive spacing to get Daniels, along with Marissa Risner, Zoe Doll, and Hannah Tolle — who are all proficient marksmen — from three-point land. In addition to those hands, Livi Shonkwiler adds a rare form of grit and toughness for a freshman, while Mackenzie Watters adds grit, toughness, and a long frame that can give opponents nightmares. Hannah Thacker and Marissa Watters supply leadership and the very unselfish manner that has allowed the Lady Falcons to roll through most of its schedule.
“We’ve got to get Ashley involved earlier on in the basketball game,” Caudill said. “We’ve got to do a better job of that. By doing so, that will space the floor for our shooters, which we’ve got to get open shots for. We need to get Marissa Risner an opportunity to knock down some open shots. Then, we need to take of (Caitlyn) Puckett’s role and overall athleticism. She’s done a really good job of accepting her role this year. Her motor is just so high and is always running. She really wants to win. She’s done an awesome job this year of accepting her role and doing what is best for the team. We’ve just got to do a better job of getting our role players involved more early on in games.”
And that’s something that Minford has done, at the worst, a good job of doing throughout much of the year. Of its 23 wins, an astounding 20 of them have come by double-digits. And two of the three victories that weren’t by a double-digit margin, Wheelersburg and Grayson (Ky.) East Carter, occurred within the first two weeks of the season.
“You can have talent, but without teamwork, it will fail,” Caudill said of the success. “We have received a lot of sacrifice from girls like Zoe Doll, Hannah Tolle, Marissa Watters, Hannah Thacker, Mackenzie Watters, and Livi Shonkwiler — who are solid to good basketball players that don’t get the minutes that their talent would normally warrant. It’s great to know that they can step into a basketball game at anytime and just play a huge role for us. We’re blessed with the kids that we have. It’s exciting.”
With the wealth of depth — and Chillicothe Southeastern only going six-deep — Caudill’s plan is to use the various talents of the hands present at his disposal to wear down the Lady Panthers.
“We’ll probably go nine-deep pretty early,” Caudill said. “Our goal is to try and pressure them a lot really early, especially in the first half. I’ll probably sub more this game than I have in any game, because Southeastern only goes six-deep. When you’re that deep, you want to try and take advantage of those numbers and wear the opponent down so that hopefully, we’ll be able to open the game up in the fourth quarter.”
Minford, however, has seen enough game film of Chillicothe Southeastern: they’re ready to ball.
“We just want to come out and do what we’re capable of doing,” Caudill said. “The girls are excited and ready to play.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT