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Prep girls basketball: Duo helps Irish deal with adversity

After finishing 13-11 last season, graduating several key players and changing coaches, it was clear that this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Charleston Catholic girls basketball team.

That makes the squad's current 3-5 record pretty much what was expected.

What was not expected was how big of a part Anna Whelan and Samantha Fletcher have had to play in the rebuilding.

"When you have (Catherine) Bandak and 5-foot-10 Peri Bailey you are expecting to have a strong inside game," first-year Coach Paul Sutherland said. "Then I was hoping to get 8-to-10 points a game each from Sam, Anna, and Hanna (Gallian)."

A 6-foot sophomore, Bandak averaged 9.2 points and 7.5 rebounds last season and was expected to pretty much double her scoring this season.

She and Gallian, a junior guard, each scored 20 points when the Irish beat Buffalo to earn a State Tournament berth last season.

Bailey, a sophomore, came off the bench last season and had shown great promise as a post player.

Gallian also averaged 9.2 points a game last year and was expected to handle the point guard duties while Fletcher, a senior, had been the top sub off the bench last season and had gained valuable experience.

In September, it looked like a line-up of Bandak at center, Bailey at forward, Fletcher at the wing, Whelan at shooting guard, and Gallian at the point.

That was before Bandak, Bailey, and then Gallian each tore an anterior cruciate ligament in one of their knees and was lost for the season.

That left Whelan and Fletcher.

"When it came to leadership it boiled down to those two," Sutherland said. "They are the only ones back with any real experience."

The duo has not disappointed.

"The pressure on us definitely increased a lot," the 5-4 Whelan said. "And at the beginning of the year we were a little hesitant."

Each is averaging close to 15 points a game and exhibiting more leadership by the day.

"If we are going to win," Whelan said.

"We know we are going to have to score."

Making the necessary changes has not been easy.

 "It's a challenge," the 5-6 Fletcher said.

"We've had a hard couple of months but things are looking up now."

Recent close games against Wheeling Central on the road and Summers County at home along with a comeback win over Class AA Poca have lifted morale. The Maroon Knights were No. 3 in the coaches' poll, while Poca was No. 9.

"Now we're starting to get everyone involved," Fletcher said.

She has taken over the shooting guard position for the most part while Whelan plays point guard.

"Their main responsibility became to carry the load and lead while making everybody else better," Sutherland said. "Before the injuries it was more sharing the load and making themselves better."

With Whelan and Fletcher providing the leadership and majority of the scoring in the early going other players have begun to blossom.

Peyton Mullen has handled some point guard duties lately while fellow freshmen Madison Helmick, Samantha Hoyer, and Ragean Palmer gain experience every game.

Simone Assaley and Christina O'Dell have shown improvement inside which has taken pressure off Whelan and Fletcher to hit outside shots.

The ultimate intangible of Catholic's team is adjusting to a new coach. Sutherland replaced Ashley Shepler, who stepped down after spending eight years as the Irish coach.

Shepler was laid back and ran a defensive-oriented system with a very organized offense.

"He's more intense," Fletcher said of Sutherland. "But if we make a mistake we don't get taken out."

"We just have way more freedom," Whelan said. "We don't run as many plays on offense."

Former Capital High and University of Charleston star Lisa Lee and Olivia Woody are the assistant coaches.

"They are always coaching us," Fletcher said.

"Whenever we make a mistake they tell us what we did wrong."

In spite of the injuries and coaching change one thing has remained a constant for the Charleston Catholic program.

"The expectations put on certain players has changed, especially Sam and I," Whelan said. "But I don't think the expectations have changed for the team.

"We still expect to do our best and to make the state tournament."

There is also one other goal.

"Hopefully nothing else will go wrong," Fletcher said.

Consider that the team's New Years' resolution.


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