Seniors take charge to get JHHS girls basketball ready for new season
If practice makes perfect, then the Jackson Heights girls basketball team is certainly headed in the right direction entering the 2014-2015 season.
The Cobras have brought a workmanlike attitude to practices so far this season, focusing on the task at hand, and head coach Dan Shupe said that really started with this year’s senior class taking charge last offseason following a 6-15 campaign.
“As soon as the basketball season was over last spring, that group of seniors got into the offseason conditioning and carried it on through to summer weights, so they’ve been a positive influence for the young kids,” Shupe said.
Most of those seniors have been varsity contributors since their freshman season and with Shupe back in his second year of leading the program that could create a lot of stability for the Cobras.
Along with seniors like Jessica Keehn, Payton Thomas, Aidan Allen and Jordan Wells returning for their fourth go-around, there are a good deal of juniors, like Katelin Strube and Becca Gibson, returning with significant varsity experience.
With that many players returning to the team, Shupe noted there is a greater understanding among the players of what he wants and expects from the team along with a greater level of comfort in executing the offense and defense, which has led to nothing but positives so far this season.
As far as building on what was put in place in year one, Shupe said year two may be about versatility as he wants to be able to fit his players into different roles to help the balance and depth of the team, as well as potentially opening up some other strengths of the players in the process.
Point guard is one position the Cobras attempted that last year, with junior Taylor Abel spelling Keehn at times to allow Keehn to take over a more aggressive scoring role. Shupe said he will continue to push that and the players’ confidence will be key in how they handle the interchangeable nature of the roles.
Confidence is not something the Cobras should be lacking, with seven varsity players returning to the squad this winter. The problem, as Shupe noted, is that many of the other Northeast Kansas League teams will be in the same boat.
While Shupe noted there likely won’t be any one dominant team in the NEKL this winter, he did say several teams are also returning the majority of their squads, which could make for a very competitive season.
“I think the quality of basketball in the NEKL as a whole is going to be a lot better this year,” Shupe said.
“We’ve got a chance to compete with everybody in our league,” he added. “We’ve gotten better. We’re going to compete and we’re just going to play it out and see where we’re at. One thing I can guarantee you is those kids are going to work very had on the court, they’re going to be a class act and they’re going to represent their school very well.”
One thing that isn’t guaranteed is how much of an impact the younger players will make on this team. While they have a lot of catching up to do as far as learning the system, Shupe said they are the first wave of several athletic players who are coming through the middle school ranks.
Eventually, the young players could provide some depth for the varsity squad and help the team by pushing the players through competition in practice as well, according to Shupe.
So far, so good there as the Cobras have been focused in preparation for the start of the season. While there are still a lot of question marks regarding the upcoming season, Shupe is optimistic about what this team could achieve.
“The kids are working hard. We’re definitely a better team then we were last year. What is that going to end up meaning for wins and losses? I’m not sure, but again, I think we can compete with anybody in our league and that’s going to give us the opportunity to have success,” Shupe said.
One key to that success could be getting off to a fast start as Shupe said the Cobras will open up the season with a slate of winnable games before the Christmas break and picking up a few wins could allow the team to keep building on that into the new year.
Another factor that Shupe said could benefit the team through the course of the season is the players’ attitude, as he noted this is an unselfish group of players.
“These kids want what’s best for the team. There’s not a lot of ‘me’ type of attitudes. It’s a ‘team’ type of attitude and when you have kids like that that’ll do whatever they can do for the team, that’s definitely a positive,” Shupe said.
From the seniors leading the way to the freshmen trying to make their mark and help out this team, Shupe said the Cobras are definitely ready for the start of the season. The coach himself is focused on putting the best product on the court and the players are starting to buy in, too, and getting to that point.
Shupe noted the Cobras have certainly put the time and dedication in and are looking forward to the results.
“The kids are really motivated to improve and get better and we’re anxious to see how the year goes,” Shupe said.
Returning starters/letter winners:
Jessica Keehn, 5’ 6’, sr., guard: 9 ppg
Payton Thomas, 5’ 7”, sr., forward: 7 ppg, 7 rpg
Aidan Allen, 5’ 6”, sr., guard
Katelin Strube, 5’ 7”, jr., forward: 7 ppg, 8 rpg
Taylor Abel, 5’ 6”, jr., guard
Jordan Wells, 5’ 7”, sr., forward
Becca Gibson, 5’ 7”, jr., forward