MINFORD — Before Minford’s girls hosted Washington Court House less than two weeks ago, during warm-ups, junior Maddie Slusher put both of her hands on junior Hannah Tolle’s shoulders and started nonchalantly massaging them.
It wasn’t a monumental moment and, more probable than not, Slusher didn’t even know anybody was watching. But it was a moment that perfectly painted a picture of the relationship that each of Minford’s roster members have with one another.
The Falcons, who currently stand at 13-5, have taken their lumps this season. But those lumps haven’t come due to lack of effort. Quite frankly, Minford’s regular season schedule is nothing short of brutal … featuring opponents like Washington Court House, Miami Trace, Waterford, Jackson, Fairland, Russell (Ky.) … you get the point.
And, to drive the point home, that doesn’t include conference opponents like Wheelersburg, Oak Hill, Waverly, South Webster and so on.
So to have won 13 of 18 games facing a schedule like they have? Well, that’s a feat that oozes success.
“I’d compare our schedule with anybody’s,” Minford coach Shane Davis said. “It’s tough to sometimes keep everyone positive through some of the losses. I’m learning a lot in my first year as a head coach. We’ve got a good team in the sense of we don’t care who does the scoring. We’re playing team basketball. I emphasize that daily. I think we’re tighter now than we ever have been. They’re believing in themselves and their confidence level is at an all-time high.”
If there’s any part of that statement you want to pay attention to, it’s the word “team.”
On Jan. 14 and 17, the Falcons lost back-to-back games to Miami Trace and Oak Hill. But they immediately bounced back with back-to-back wins over Coal Grove and Valley.
Sophomore Livi Shonkwiler has the answer … and it’s a simple one.
“Just confidence, ya know? Just getting to the next game, trying to keep our heads up,” Shonkwiler said. “We can’t get down on ourselves. We have to keep battling, keeping pushing through.”
Shonkwiler has transformed into one the team’s most viable scoring options. But that wasn’t the case when the season started.
“For me, I think I’ve just gained a lot of confidence since the beginning of the season,” Shonkwiler said. “I just want to help my team out as much as I can. So when the confidence came, I guess everything else came with it.”
Senior Ashley Blankenship entered the year with confidence. She was the unquestioned leader coming in and has proven her worth time and time again. Earlier this season, Blankenship scored her 1,000th career point … to nobody’s surprise.
But it’s not just her talent that impresses. It’s her value as a teammate that takes the cake.
“We all love Ashley,” junior Maddie Slusher said. “She always just wants to keep scoring and keep doing the best she can for all of us. You can’t really stop her. She’s just a great athlete.”
Slusher could say the same about herself, but would never do so. Her humble demeanor off the court doesn’t embody her up-in-your-face style of defensive prowess between the lines.
“I’ve always been like that. I feel like if I can get the ball and get it to my teammates, they can score. That’s just as good as me scoring. So that’s why we have that energy. We want the ball,” Slusher said. “We love getting after it. We want to win. You have to do everything you can and play team basketball.”
Left on Minford’s schedule are conference dates with Waverly, South Webster and Northwest, as well as non-conference bouts with Russell (Ky.) and Fairland.
But with players like Shonkwiler, Tolle, Blankenship, Slusher and Caitlyn Puckett leading the way, as well as a more than capable first-year head coach in Davis, the Falcons have more success — and hopefully a lengthy tournament run — in their near future.
“I think we can make it as far as last year,” Shonkwiler said. “We lost some really good seniors last year but if we keep pushing, keep playing team ball … we still have a very talented team.”
Reach Derrick Webb at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @dw1509.