I'm sure some people might give me a dazed look when I say that the McCook girls basketball team is improving.
The Bison girls have not won a game at the varsity level yet this season. First-year head coach Jeff Ellis inherited a young, inexperienced squad, and his team struggled early in the campaign.
I sincerely mean it when I say this team is improving. I've see the McCook girls practice and play many times this year, and I see improvement, although that hasn't translated into removing that goose egg from the win column -- not yet.
One of the biggest troubles I see on the team is a lack of experience at the varsity level and a wealth of turnovers, mostly due to that lack of previous varsity playing time. I'm pretty sure Coach Ellis would agree on the afore-mentioned points, as we've discussed that at length many times this winter during pre-game interviews and post-game analysis.
The McCook girls played an absolutely great game last Saturday in the seventh-place final at the Orange and Black Classic in Colby, Kan, and a crying shame that McCook didn't win. The Bison faced a team from Wichita South that competes in Class 6A in Kansas, the state high school association's largest classification. While Wichita South hasn't experienced much success either this season (the Titans compete in a tough Wichita City League), it still has so many more girls to choose from roaming the hallways than McCook does that you have to expect that the Knights would have a much better squad than the Bison.
Coach Ellis' squad actually led by eight points in the second half, before South rallied to take a three-point lead in the closing seconds and ended up beating the Bison 54-51. In the post-game chat with the McCook coach, Ellis said Saturday marked the first time this season that his team held a lead in the second half.
One problem for Ellis and his squad is that most, if not all the teams McCook has faced this season are veteran teams, with many juniors and seniors on the respective rosters with two or more years of varsity experience. McCook had no returning starters back from last year, and just a handful of girls that saw limited varsity playing time on last year's team that was, if I understand correctly, was loaded with a strong group of seniors.
This year's McCook's senior trio of Kelsey Pohl, Morgan Chitwood and Becky Goodenberger had very little, if any, varsity playing time before this season. If I understood Coach Ellis correctly, Pohl and Chitwood had not competed in the sport the past two years. If that is correct, then that duo could be considered sophomores experience-wise.
Ellis has played a bunch of underclassmen this year, including a trio of freshmen, on the varsity. The good news is that next year and the following year, the Bison girls will hopefully be the team with all the veterans returning -- the valuable experience the girls are gaining on the court this year should translate into success down the road.
If Ellis can convince his returning players that they need to put in some work in the off-season improving their basketball skills and getting in some competition in summer camps, pick-up games, etc., then the Bison squad will, in my opinion, improve their roundball fortunes.
This year is not over, although McCook has some tough games ahead, starting with a road trip to Lexington tonight. I think these girls will indeed break the skid before the season is over -- perhaps in districts with Hastings a possible opponent in first-round action (McCook has lost two tough games to the Tigers this season).
I appreciate Coach Ellis and his demeanor. I know it gets tough talking every week after a loss. But he's always been positive while pointing out his team's woes and where he feels they need to improve in order to win, without insulting his players. I'm looking forward to seeing what this team can do in the future.