NEW BOSTON — Kayla Wiley was probably asked a time or two this season, and her response was likely the same.
Channeling her inner “Norman Dale”, her “team was on the floor”.
But unlike the all-time classic Hoosiers, these were the 2020-21 Lady Tigers — and indeed this wasn’t the movies, but real life high school basketball.
That’s because New Boston’s girls team consisted of just five, yes count ‘em five, players —the minimum number necessary in order to compete.
Of course, fielding five for the ENTIRE SEASON is almost unheard of, but there are instances of such — from Federal Hocking of years ago to even this year in some games Conotton Valley.
But the Lady Tigers’ “Fab 5” for 2021 has been five, and only five, from opening tip to what will be final buzzer —whenever New Boston’s season officially ends.
The fivesome features six-foot senior Shelby Easter, 5-7 junior Kenzie Whitley, 5-8 sophomore Dylan O’Rourke, 5-5 sophomore Cadence Williams and 5-8 freshman Cassie Williams.
Easter is the elder stateswoman, and spokeswoman, in this case — and explained her unique senior season inside Homer Pellegrinon Gymnasium with her hardwood sisters.
“Being a part of the ‘Fab 5’ has been one of the best experiences of my life honestly. We’ve learned so much from each other, never giving up, staying tough mentally and physically, and having each other’s backs especially,” said Easter. “Being the only senior, I knew I had to step into a leadership role and set an example for the girls, but they make it easy. We all thought playing with five would be difficult and that we couldn’t do it, but we’ve proven that we can and continue to do our best and show up every night pushing ourselves and competing just like everyone else.”
And kudos for the Lady Tigers to do just that, as they actually have posted a respectable 8-11 record —and a 7-5 Southern Ohio Conference Division I mark.
They have three regular-season road games remaining — at Symmes Valley on Monday and Whiteoak on Wednesday —while an SOC I tilt against Green has yet to be rescheduled.
They have assured themselves of at least a .500 showing in the SOC I —given Green and Symmes Valley are the only two league bouts left.
One of the more memorable triumphs was a 57-52 non-league victory at Chesapeake, in which O’Rourke fouled out with three-and-a-half minutes remaining —and New Boston was forced to finish with only four.
But how are these Lady Tigers winning with only five?
Wiley, the veteran New Boston coach and former Lady Tiger standout herself, said it’s a matter of quality over quantity.
Easter and Whitley are experienced players and — although their roles are different for this team —are the Lady Tigers’ top two scorers and rebounders.
“It’s a good group of five and they really truly work hard,” said Wiley. “They try to get better and they all get along. It sucks that through this process it is Shelby’s (Easter) senior year. She is definitely the fire and the intensity. When she brings her intensity, that’s the games that the whole team is fired up.”
Easter accepted the leadership role, while Whitley went from the shooting guard to the point guard spot.
Along with playing perhaps, and even likely, new positions —the Lady Tigers face full-court pressure in many games.
Teams try and tire the Tigers out, and/or force them into foul trouble —which affects not only the defensive but offensive end.
“A lot of times we come in and we get pressed the whole game. But as I said at the beginning of the season, we definitely have to shift and try and find our way,” said Wiley. “People handling the ball who are not used to handling the ball. It’s going to be a process, that’s for sure.”
As part of the process, it’s been a challenge sometimes accomplishing goals in a full five-on-five practice setting.
Wiley said doing drills, or practicing against full-court pressure, hasn’t been ideal.
“One major issue of not having enough kids is being able to practice 5-on-5. Sometimes, our coaches will come in and will play against them, so we have five or close to five there. It’s hard to do drills and we can’t hardly run 11-man or simple drills that other teams can run,” she said. “That’s another issue as far as decision-making goes. We can only do so many drills as far as decision-making.”
Then couple low numbers with potential illness, other obligations and this season the coronavirus threat —and sometimes practices of five drop to four or even below three.
The Lady Tigers twice have been quarantined, too.
“I’ve had three or four practices with one or two kids at practice,” said Wiley.
However, it is the end of the regular season —and the “Fab 5” have held together as strong as iron.
Wiley had no doubt they would.
“These girls are a hard-working and dedicated group of five, and they are going to get to where we need them to be. I’m sure when we walk into the gym the first thing that people think is that they (Lady Tigers) only have five,” said the coach. “But I think that is very deceiving.”
Indeed, looks do deceive, and —as Easter explained in “Norman Dale” script — “I love you guys”.
“This team is so special to me and is more like family than a team. I’m so glad to have spent my senior year with these girls,” said Easter. “I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved