The past two iterations of Big Spring girls basketball are near polar opposites.
The 2017-18 team was a senior-heavy group with no true standout scorer, but was a unit that played well together and fought every game. The 2018-19 version, however, is young, athletic and capable of doing more with a basketball than its predecessors.
Head coach Randy Jones has enjoyed coaching the two dramatically different Bulldogs teams for exactly those disparities. The old core was scrappy, much like their coach. The new group, while prone to some more mistakes because of their youth, may have a higher ceiling than recent squads.
“There’s some finesse and versatility and [athleticism] in this group that we haven’t had in some time,” Jones said Friday night. “I feel like we have natural basketball players.”
The young nucleus is already being built around freshman Emilee Sullivan (point guard) and Laney Noreika (forward, who can play guard or wing as well). That pair is averaging 7.4 points and 12.5 points, respectively, the top two marks on the team.
The Bulldogs are 5-3 (1-2 Colonial) and coming off a couple of wins before the new year.
Jones wasn’t quite sure what to expect prior to the season. In the summer, she said she had nine incoming freshman and little clue who would crack the rotation, much less where. Mixed with four juniors and a couple sophomores, plus two seniors, there were a lot of questions entering the year in terms of roster construction.
Jones has settled on a mix of youth and veterans. Sullivan mans the point with senior Shelby Miller at shooting guard. Junior Alex Kutulakis is on the wing, with Noreika at forward and 5-foot-6 junior Allison Frick at the 5.
“I think we have more weapons. With Alex and Shelby, those girls can be a threat from the outside,” Jones said. “[Sullivan] sees the court very well, but it’s all very new [at the varsity level].”
An example of the how they have improved offensively is from the 3-point line. The Bulldogs have 20 this year, with Sullivan in the lead with 13. While not a dominant team from deep, Jones feels more confident with more girls unleashing from beyond the arc than last year.
Two of Big Spring’s losses came to the early Mid-Penn Colonial leaders: Shippensburg (4-3, 3-1) and Greencastle-Antrim (6-1, 4-0). Jones’ hope is by the second turn in the division schedule, the youthful Bulldogs will have taken another step or two and could steal a win or two from the upper echelon in the division.
One of the big things she wants to see more of is the team be able to improvise mid-play without explicit directions from the coaching staff. She admits that will take time, especially with a freshman at the point. But she has seen glimpses of that instinctive creativity.
“They have natural basketball ability,” Jones said. “And that is fun to coach, because I’m hoping sometime down the road — we’re not there yet … they really don’t need me down the line because they are that smart.”
Ship hounding opponents
The Bulldogs are not the only young Colonial squad.
Shippensburg fields a pair of sophomore guards that lead the team in scoring. Tori Rumbaugh (18.0 ppg) is one of the Sentinel area’s top scorers through the first month, and Emelie Nonemaker is second on the Greyhounds with 11.3. (Stats are not available for the loss against Greencastle-Antrim.)
The scoring distribution is heavily skewed in favor of those two, with no other ‘Hound averaging more than five points so far. But it has been a successful recipe.
Ship’s last game of 2018 was a win over Ephrata thanks to a 29-point night from Rumbaugh.
The Greyhounds open 2019 with four games in seven nights: Jan. 4 vs. James Buchanan, then meetings with Eastern York, Northern York and Susquehanna Township to wrap up the stretch Jan. 10.
Upcoming games to watch
- The early January schedule opens with the biggest game of the Mid-Penn Commonwealth season so far: Wednesday’s matchup of Cumberland Valley (6-0, 4-0) at Central Dauphin (8-1, 4-0). The Eagles have been on a tear, one of just three unbeaten programs left in the Mid-Penn along with Bishop McDevitt and Trinity. Getting a road win against the bitter rival Rams will be another feather in the cap during an impressive regular season.
- Speaking of McD, the Crusaders host Mechanicsburg Friday in a battle of the Keystone’s top two squads. Then they host Trinity Saturday evening.
- The always entertaining Big Spring-Boiling Springs series begins Tuesday in Newville.
- Jan. 11 has Cedar Cliff at Mechanicsburg.
- Then on Jan. 12, you can catch the Holy Redeemer vs. Trinity game at 1:30 in Lancaster or Spring-Ford at Cumberland Valley.