WEST PORTSMOUTH — With West’s recent, and quite impressive, turnaround on the girls basketball court —the Lady Senators’ next goal as a program is unquestionably to take its next step.
Larry Howell has that opportunity now as the Lady Senators’ head coach, as he was recently hired to fill that post — and is making the seemingly seamless transition over from the West side’s boys side.
Howell, who has served as Caleb McClanahan’s ace assistant on the Senators’ bench for the past two years, has been a head coach before —for five successful seasons in fact in his native Gallia County at South Gallia.
Howell replaces three-year head coach Megan Artrip, who stepped down following last season.
Under Artrip, the Lady Senators went 43-26 —steadily improving in each of her three seasons, from 10-13 three years ago (2019-20) to 15-7 two years back (2020-21) and to 18-6 with a Division III sectional championship this past campaign.
West’s sectional title, in fact, was its first since 2013 —while its Southern Ohio Conference Division II runner-up finish for 2021 was its first in several years.
When she took on the girls basketball coaching job, the Lady Senators’ struggles were evident —coming off seasons of 5-18 (2016-17), 6-16 (2017-18) and 3-19 (2018-19).
Now, West is winning with an overly athletic core of players —and Howell wants to be along for the future ride.
“Coach (Megan) Artrip has done a great job with them. Being in the gym and seeing them, you could tell that they had some talent. Just kind of wanted to step in and help out and try to make them better players. I think we’re definitely built to have some success with who we have coming back with this group,” said Howell, in an interview last week with The Portsmouth Daily Times.
The Lady Senators’ lone graduation losses were Abby Adkins and Eden Cline, although both were important players and starters for a West rotation of only seven deep.
Returning for West will be, or is expected to be, experienced guards in Emma Sayre, Lexi Deaver and Charlie Jo Howard —and forwards Kate Rollins, Sydney McDermott and Maelynn Howell.
Howell, hovering around five feet and 11 inches tall, is arguably the Lady Senators’ best pure basketball player —having made Honorable Mention all-Ohio (second team all Southeast District) last season from the Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association (OPSWA).
Coach Howell added Elisha Andre and Rylee McDermott have worked out regularly with the Lady Senators this summer’s offseason —which was set to conclude this weekend at the Fairland shootout.
Howell hasn’t been with West’s girls too terribly long in time frame, so he is still learning everybody’s abilities —both collectively and individually.
“From watching them this summer, we have to take care of the basketball and we want to play inside-out offensively. Then defensively, we want to get after people, play tough on the ball and rebound,” said the coach. “We’re going to stress fundamentals on a daily basis, and I believe our practices are going to be really competitive. Every drill we run, there’s a winner and loser. We want to build that kind of competition, where kids want to compete for every single possession every game.”
Howell, a 1993 Gallia Academy graduate who played for and later assisted the legendary Jim Osborne at GAHS, helped out in Shawnee State’s program — prior to his seven years with South Gallia’s boys.
The first two with the Rebels were as an assistant to Donnie Saunders —with the final five as the head coach and McClanahan as his assistant.
West hired McClanahan, and Howell followed him to West Portsmouth —where the Senators became the “Winators” in the duo’s first season, going 18-5 and capturing the programs’s first sectional championship since 1998.
Nine seniors, and their patented 1-3-1 full-court defense with plenty of length and depth, spearheaded those Senators onward to victory.
“Caleb (McClanahan) was my assistant at South Gallia, then he got the job here at West, and he asked me to come on and help him out. Caleb and I are best friends, coaching a little basketball as well,” said Howell.
Howell said the tandem will continue to “help the other out” with their two teams, but both are not each other’s full-time nor lead assistant.
Instead, Howell’s top two assistants are his two daughters —Aaliyah and Amaya —as Aaliyah played three seasons of junior varsity basketball at the University of Rio Grande.
Aaliyah recently graduated with her degree in Education, and Amaya —meanwhile —remains enrolled there.
The Lady Senators’ reserve coach will be Whitney (Bear) Cunningham —the former Valley High School star.
And, although it’s extremely early to be discussing the upcoming season, defeating defending SOC II champion Wheelersburg is the program’s definite next step.
Two years ago, only powerhouse Wheelersburg was ahead of West in the SOC II —with the Lady Senators seriously challenging the Lady Pirates in all three matchups, which included the Division III sectional championship bout.
This past season, West’s only losses were twice to Wheelersburg (SOC II champion and Division III district champion), twice to South Webster (SOC II runner-up and Division IV district runner-up), once to Fairland (Ohio Valley Conference champion and Division III regional runner-up) and once to Eastern Brown (Southern Hills Athletic Conference champion and Division III district runner-up).
In fact, West is the only SOC II club in the past two seasons to twice come within five points (50-46 on Dec. 3, 2020 and 51-46 on Dec. 9, 2021) of knocking off the Lady Pirates.
Wheelersburg’s winning streak in the SOC II stands at 60 games.
“The hump we’re trying to get over is Wheelersburg. Burg’s kids are just tough kids and know how to win. To be the most successful program we know we can be, we need to knock them off,” admitted Howell. “With the group of kids we have back and this senior class, I think we can give them a run for their money.”
Indeed, it’s a good group Howell has high expectations for —and he hopes to take the Lady Senators’ next step with them.
“Really excited about the opportunity. These girls have been all in and working hard since I’ve taken over. Just trying to get to everything and get a feel for how they play live in actual competition,” he said. “Watching film and watching how they play live, it’s different. You can see their eyes in competition that you don’t see on film. But these are really good, competitive kids who want to have success.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved