Girls team set for challenge, life on road
New coaches sometimes face a rebuilding process when taking over a program.
First-year Whitehall-Yearling High School girls basketball coach Stephanie Jones believes she is in an ideal situation, taking over a team that was 14-8 overall and 9-5 in the MSL-Ohio Division last season.
She replaced Libby McCandlish, who coached the team for four years and resigned because of family commitments.
"The girls are doing a great job of adjusting and they're picking things up real quick," Jones said. "I'm happy with where we are right now."
Jones coached at Columbus School for Girls for two seasons, finishing 12-12 in 2010-11 and 1-20 last year.
After defeating Buckeye Valley 38-34 in the first round of the Division II district tournament last season, the Rams lost to second-seeded Hartley 38-27.
Whitehall opened at Hamilton Township on Nov. 27 and visits Worthington Christian on Friday, Nov. 30. The Rams begin league play at home against Lakewood on Saturday, Dec. 1.
Because of a renovation project at the high school, Whitehall is practicing at Old and New Rosemore middle schools. The Rams will play their home games at New Rosemore.
"We are going to be on the road a lot this year," Jones said. "It is going to be a tough season mentally and physically on the coaches and players, but we are up for the challenge. The girls and coaches have to be very flexible this year while the new high school is being built."
The Rams return two starters from last season in 5-foot-8 senior point guard Amber Lucas and 5-7 senior guard Mamie Russell. Both are captains.
"We have a team this year that talks more and is more together," Lucas said. "We'd at least like to make it to round two (of the district tournament) this year."
Senior Marissa Ware (5-8, forward), juniors Christyanna Madero (5-5, guard) and Brenell Williams (5-10, forward) and sophomores Ra'Jonika Cunningham (5-6, guard), Nia Parks (5-8, forward) and Gayle Poindexter (5-5, guard) played junior varsity last season.
Poindexter is expected to split time with Lucas at point guard.
Senior Ta'Shara Smith (5-5, guard) also is looking to contribute.
"I have a nice core returning," Jones said. "I have some girls who were on the j.v. last year that have really stepped up. We just don't have one go-to person; we have multiple kids who can score. It's a well-rounded team. They have really stepped up to the challenge and they've worked on their game in the offseason."
Jones must deal with the loss of junior twins Natalie and Nicole Orr, who transferred to Reynoldsburg during the summer.
Nicole averaged 14.5 points last season and was the Player of the Year in the league, second-team all-district and honorable mention all-state. Natalie was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
The Rams also lost 2012 graduates Kayla Persinger, who was first-team all-league, and De'sja Durr, who was honorable mention all-league.
Last season, Whitehall tied Granville for third in the league, behind Newark Catholic (13-1) and Licking Valley (11-3) and ahead of Columbus Academy (4-10), Heath (4-10), Bexley (4-10) and Lakewood (2-12).
"Our ultimate goal every year is to prepare for a league championship and then try to get as deep as we can in the tournament," Jones said. "I don't know if this team is ready for a district championship, but that's one of our goals."