Girls basketball: George Washington coach pleased with progress
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As the girls basketball coach at George Washington High School, Jamie LaMaster easily could have entered the 2013-14 school year with a dour outlook.
The Patriots (16-9 last season) fell short of a State Tournament appearance in 2013, falling to Princeton in a Region 3 co-final. The same night, GW's cross-town rival Capital - a team GW had squashed 61-35 in sectional play four days earlier - shocked the state by knocking off top-ranked Greenbrier East and earned its own ticket to the Charleston Civic Center.
The Patriots lost point guard Rachel Ward to graduation. She now suits up for West Virginia State University.
During the out-of-season coaching period, top returner Kelli Jo Harrison tore her ACL that required surgery, an injury that often forces a player to miss a season to recover.
Yet with the Patriots opening their regular season against 2013 State Tournament semifinalist Spring Valley on Dec. 12, Lamaster is smiling like the cat that ate the canary.
"We've got a pretty good group of kids. We've already scrimmaged Ironton, Ohio, and Eastern Meigs and beat them both," LaMaster said Tuesday. "Eastern was in the final four in their classification in Ohio, and they've got a lot of speed.
"With Ironton, we got a contrasting view. They were kind of bigger and more athletic," LaMaster said. "We left kind of surprised. Myself and the coaches were really kind of pleased."
Harrison's injury, as it turned out, enabled GW to work to find offensive solutions with available players, instead of spending the off-season figuring out the best way to get its star the ball more often.
As a result, LaMaster said he discovered that his team can match up well with most types of opponents.
"Kelli's injury was very, very unfortunate, but the timing of it allowed us to find out what else we had," he said. "Now we're up to eight kids who can really play. We're so versatile, we can go with a small, athletic lineup or can go with a bigger lineup.
"Our biggest challenge this year is going to be finding the right combination. The plus is that all these kids are going to be here this year and next year."
Then there's Harrison, who could make a return as early as New Year's Day, 2014. The 5-foot-10 senior has a doctor's appointment Dec. 31 in which she hopes to gain clearance to play.
LaMaster said her commitment to rehabilitation has been impressive. Harrison has attended each of the Patriots' preseason practices and done all her rehab workouts alongside her teammates.
"The leg has to be 90 percent as strong as the healthy leg, and they'll release her," he said. "I've never seen a kid rehab as hard as she has."
Sarah Miller and Kasey Reed give GW three seniors, but LaMaster said that neither will likely start against the Timberwolves.
"Right now, if we could go tomorrow, we'd go with four juniors and a sophomore," he said.
Junior Alanna Mobayed (5-foot-8) will be GW's lone returning starter in the opener. She will likely be joined by fellow juniors Hailey Stewart (5-6), Lilly Ash (5-8) and Maria Romeo (5-8) as well as sophomore Elisha Davis (5-8).
Another reason for LaMaster's positivity might have to do with a change in his own schedule. He stepped down from his spot as an assistant coach for the GW football program this year to spend more time with his two daughters and focus on basketball.
"It allowed me more time to prepare and spend time with the kids. It's like anything, when your boss isn't at work I think kids have a tendency to not go as hard as maybe they should be," he said.
"It's been very much a positive."
Along with its Mountain State Athletic Conference schedule, GW plays non-conference games this season against defending state champion Parkersburg South, Wheeling Park, Ashland Paul Blazer (Ky.), Class AA defending state champion Bridgeport, Greenbrier East and a pair of games at the Big Atlantic Classic in Beckley.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.