MINFORD — These Lady Falcons have potential, but perhaps they prefer to fly under the radar.
Following the graduation of arguably their top two players from last season, Minford returns its next four tops — but the Lady Falcons face some expectations where maybe, just maybe, they aren’t getting the rightful credit they should perhaps deserve.
But second-year Minford mentor Shane Davis doesn’t mind if his Lady Falcons play with a chip on their shoulder.
After all, it’s often easier to play as an underdog — assuming you embrace the challenge.
“I am excited about the season and looking forward to it,” said Davis. “We’re trying to get across to these girls that maybe we’re flying under the radar a little bit and going into these games as an underdog, but approach that as something we like and as a challenge that we accept. These girls have responded well and are really getting after it in practice.”
The Falcons will be challenged in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II, as defending champion Wheelersburg and Oak Hill have most of their top performers returning — whereas the Falcons are without their top two scorers and overall players.
Minford went 17-7 and 11-3 in the rock-solid SOC II, and won a Division III sectional championship, but graduated two all-Southeast District second-teamers in Ashley Blankenship and Caitlyn Puckett.
Blankenship, at a tall six-foot three-inches and scoring at 14.6 points per game, averaged a double-double with 11 rebounds — and is the school’s third all-time leading scorer for girls.
Puckett was a 5-10 inside battler, averaged 11 points per game, and complimented Blankenship in the post.
“We graduated two good ones,” said Davis. “Ashley’s (Blankenship) presence is hard to replace. She averaged a double-double, was 6-foot-3 and her defense in the post was always there. Then Caitlyn Puckett was a tough girl who got after it, battled inside and was a scorer.”
That scoring, rebounding and shot-altering effort will now be picked up by four returnees including three starters — 5-6 junior Livi Shonkwiler, 5-2 senior Maddie Slusher and 5-9 senior Hannah Tolle.
Tolle was named Special Mention all-Southeast District.
Minford’s Makenzie Watters (5-11) was the squad’s sixth man, as two other seniors with limited varsity experience return in Ali Brumfield (5-3) and Makayla Watters (5-6).
Davis hopes Coriell, who stands 6-4, can take over that true center spot vacated by Blankenship.
“We have some good athletes returning, but we have to have some young kids step up,” said Davis.
Besides Coriell, Makenzie Watters will be the tallest Lady Falcon expected to see significant minutes.
“For some of the height we don’t have, we make up for with our hustle and effort and positioning and not being afraid to be physical,” said Davis. “And we’re going to have to be with some of the teams on our schedule.”
Rounding out the roster are 5-9 junior Micah Thacker, 5-5 freshman Sydney Mougey, and sophomores Bella Reffit (5-3), Jaden Cartee (5-2) and Sammi Gampp (5-8).
Thacker returns from an injury, as Davis expects the entire program numbers to near 16 or 17.
While the Falcons are a smaller and quicker club, and maybe more reliant on defense this season, they have improved — and continue to be better — at protecting the basketball.
“We are a lot better at ball-handling. We have girls getting more comfortable with the basketball and handling the ball in pressure situations. You can see the girls progressing with it,” said Davis. “Last year, we were still recovering from Erin Daniels’ graduation — and her being not only the point person but she created everything. Now the three returning starters anytime will handle the basketball. We’ve improved on that and our shooting. Ball-handling and shooting, because we’ve worked on them so much, would have to be two strengths.”
While Wheelersburg and Oak Hill have to be considered the favorites for the SOC II championship, Minford may have a final say in the race as well.
In addition, in the non-league, the Falcons face Division II district champion Washington Court House — along with Eastern Brown in the University of Rio Grande Shootout.
“We have a pretty hard schedule. The conference is going to be tough,” said Davis, “Wheelersburg and Oak Hill are right at the top because they both have some of the best players in the league and two of the best coaches in the entire area.”
But Davis doesn’t mind Minford not being predicted right at the top of that totem pole.
In fact, it’s okay for these Lady Falcons to fly under the proverbial radar.
“Some people may not give these girls credit right now, but we will just go out and earn everybody’s respect,” said Davis.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved