Girls basketball: Sophomores have Timberwolves climbing
WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Forget "sophomore slump," Spring Valley's talented sophomore class has sent the girls basketball team surging toward this year's State Tournament.
The Timberwolves boast three sophomore starters, with several more in key reserve roles, who not only perform adequately, but excel despite their youth. That has Class AAA No. 2 Spring Valley primed for success now and in the years to come.
"It's a good feeling to know the future is good, but we think we can also win right now," Coach Bo Miller said.
Point guard Sarah Kelly leads the talented sophomores in true fashion as the squad's floor general, directing traffic and commanding opponents' attention.
"She sees the court extremely well," Miller said. "Nobody sees the court like she does. We live with her throwing it away sometimes, because we know she's going to make the good pass nine out of 10 times."
In Spring Valley's 75-45 dismantling of Winfield Thursday, Kelly finished with 13 assists without playing a minute in the fourth quarter. In addition, Kelly finished with 18 points, six steals and four rebounds.
As the point guard, Kelly said she understands the responsibility of her position and the necessary mentality to succeed.
"Just to keep your cool and play like an upperclassman," she said. "Play with the fast-paced game."
Because of Kelly's ability to excel in the fast pace, as well as her teammates, the Timberwolves (16-2) have averaged nearly 68 points per contest this season.
Some of the main benefactors of Kelly's quick decisions and smooth passes are sophomore starting forwards Madison Morris and Brooke Heck. Each player finished with a double-double in the team's win at Winfield.
Kelly said the trio developed a lot of their experience as freshmen playing in place of injured upperclassmen.
Miller added the players are not new to the spotlight either playing for the school's exceptional volleyball program, as well as a stringent AAU schedule.
"I think they've played enough basketball, and they've all played state championship volleyball, so that helps their confidence," he said.
"They've all been on the big stage before. They've played AAU, traveled to big tournaments, so I think they responded well to that."
Beyond the three starting sophomores, seniors Mackenzie Morris and Emily Butcher round out the starting lineup.
The sophomore talent extends to the bench too, in Kassidy Lemmons, Jordan Ratcliff and Allison McGraw.
"They all pretty much know their roles and they all can play," Miller said. "They can all handle the ball, they can all shoot. They know basically where to be on the court at all times."
Despite the team's skills, particularly those of the sophomores, Miller said he wasn't expecting the Timberwolves to breeze through their schedule.
"I knew we had the talent, I just didn't know how well that they would handle it," he said. "I figured it would be more of an up-and-down type of year."
At first, it looked that may be the case as Spring Valley lost its first two contests of the season.
Instead of wallowing in defeat, the Timberwolves responded with 16 straight victories.
Kelly said the team learned an important lesson from those two early games, as well as the many close calls they've had throughout the season.
"That anyone can beat us at any given time, and that we just have to show up and play," she said. "We can't just think that we're going to beat a team. We have to play to beat them.
That's a valuable lesson for such a young squad to learn, especially one planning to make a deep postseason run.
"Our goal, at the beginning of the year, was if we didn't make it to Charleston, it was a bad year," Miller said. "That's our goal every year."
What seemed like a lofty dream in November, now appears more attainable than ever thanks to Spring Valley's sophomores.
"We made that goal, but I wasn't sure if I thought that it would be likely," Kelly said. "It definitely is now. We can definitely do it.
"It's kind of surprising, because I don't think we've ever had such a good team. We have a great chance to win state, and we have to keep working hard and push and get better and focus."
The youth of an underclassman, the grit of a senior and the heart of a champion, Kelly and her sophomore teammates have Spring Valley poised for success now and years to come.