Augusta's girls basketball team shocked a lot of people with the big run the Orioles made during last season's sub-state tournament. In fact, toward the end of the season, the Orioles played a lot better than their 6-15 record would indicate.
"There was no drama. Everybody was just doing their role, everybody finally found their spot on the floor," Casady Marlnee, a senior and the Orioles' returning leading scorer, said of last year's late-season success.
Now, with coach Tracy Anderson in her second season with the Orioles and several key returning players, there is no reason to think the Orioles can't stretch that type of success through the course of an entire season.
"I expect us to basically take off from where we ended the year last year, with that kind of intensity and enthusiasm, hopefully with production on both ends of the floor," Anderson said.
The Orioles' practices have been far more intense thus far than at this point last year. Translating that intensity into speed will be a critical component of Anderson's plans this season. The Orioles eventually learned to rely on their defense to keep games close partly because they struggled to score.
"I do expect us to score more because we're really kind of focusing on running more and trying to score early and in transition," Anderson said. "…The defensive philosophy took so long to really instill and get them to understand, and this year they already know that. So it's been a lot smoother."
"Our practices weren't this intense until the end of last year," senior Hope Travaille said. "Now they're starting off that fast. Everybody's already in better shape than we were last year….If you're not at 110 percent, then you can find yourself on the bench."
Unlike recent seasons, the bench will be a strong suit for the Orioles. Their depth will enable them to try and outrun teams for those quick baskets all game long, the goal being to wear down their opponent.
Big things come in small packages
Maddy Leedom isn't tall. Her teammates aren't shy in reminding her of that with friendly jabs from time to time.
But Leedom has personified Anderson's style that the rest of the Orioles eventually picked up on. Leedom takes a lot of pride in her defensive prowess, and though she doesn't have a lot of height, she has more than enough speed to cause problems that can lead to fast-break opportunities.
"Defense is my favorite thing," Leedom said. "I feel like if I hustle, it will push other people to hustle just as much."
That kind of leadership isn't common in sophomores, but Leedom didn't play like a typical freshman last year. Anderson said Leedom might have had some rough stretches as a freshman trying to handle the pressure of the starting point guard—a position Anderson had in her playing days and understands well—but Leedom emerged through that with big upside, as she's already shown progress in practices so far this season
Page 2 of 2 - "She has the heart of a lion," Anderson said of Leedom. "…She's come in with a bounce back in her step."
Leedom wants to improve her dribbling handles and take better care of the ball, something she put work into during the summer. She feels ready to face more challenges this season.
"I had a lot of practice this summer with my summer team, and I had to step up a lot," Leedom said.
As Leedom will be the one to set the tone defensively, it will be Marlnee who will ignite the offense. Marlnee has the rare combination of tremendous height, physicality, ball skills and raw speed. Anderson said that Marlnee will have to be a double-digit scorer and that Marlnee has opened up to the idea of getting touches on the block to take advantage of her size. But Marlnee will still be able to use the drive and her deceptive speed to create shots off the dribble when necessary.
"I've shot so much. My shot's a lot better this year. I know people are going to play me on the dribble because I beat a lot of people on the dribble last year," Marlnee said, "so I've been working on the outside shot a lot."
If she can get bigger defenders guarding her on the wing, she'll have no problem attacking the rim.
Defensively, Marlnee can play both inside and out, as well. But the Orioles will be counting on Travaille and senior Abby Tipton to be clean-up rebounders on the defensive end.
The Orioles will have several players with little varsity experience who will need to become good role players. Brooke Eberhardt will significant minutes after finishing as the team's third leading scorer in the post. Morgan Kirk will be vital as the Orioles' backup point guard and already has helped push Leedom to be better. Kylie Wesbrooks may get her chance to emerge as a key scorer.