Opening the season against Girls Greater Catholic League power McAuley is becoming a tradition for Lakota East High School’s girls basketball team.
The Thunderhawks are scheduled to kick off the 2017-2018 season on Nov. 25 on the road against the Mohawks, making this the third consecutive season and fifth in the last six that the two teams have met in East’s opener.
Second-year Thunderhawks coach Gideon Dudgeon doesn’t mind.
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“It’s good to get tested early,” he said. “They’re physical and they get up and down the court, like most of the GGCL schools.”
Dudgeon expects to learn a lot about his team, which is loaded with juniors — 11, according to the roster on the Greater Miami Conference website, to go with two seniors and two freshmen.
“We have a bunch of young kids who haven’t played much varsity ball,” said Dudgeon, whose team finished 6-17 overall and seventh in the GMC with a 6-10 record and lost in the Division I sectional’s first round. “We don’t return a ton, but we have a bunch of young kids looking to make a mark.”
Jordan Stanley, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, returns for East after leading the team in scoring last season with an average of 10.2 points per game.
“Jordan’s got to lead the way,” Dudgeon said. “This is her third year. She’s got the most varsity experience. She’s been through the gauntlet. She’s done a great job stepping up and being a vocal leader. She’s never not going to work, but she’s become more vocal this year. The kids respect her.”
She is the only one of the Thunderhawks’ top five scorers from last season to return, but three of the next five are back — 5-8 junior guards Jessica Motley and Grace Silverberg, and 5-9 junior guard Caitlin Rolling.
The junior crop might’ve been bigger, but 5-4 guard Shaniyah Reese transferred from East to Fairfield, where she lives. She’d taken advantage of open enrollment to attend East.
Dudgeon is hoping that a year of experience and a noticeable work ethic will help the Thunderhawks shoot better this season.
“We have a group of juniors who are just plain gym rats,” he said. “They love to come into the gym and shoot on their own. Going into Year 2 together, they’re getting familiar with everyone. Their overall shooting has gotten better, along with their ball movement. They’re making sure they get a great shot, not just a good shot.
“One of the things we’ve done since last season is we’ve put a premium on getting stronger. We added a strength coach from Beacon (Orthopaedics) who’s taken them and done an awesome job.”
The roster turnover had Dudgeon still trying to shake out a starting lineup or rotation.
“It’s still up in the air,” he said. “One of the things we’ve talked about is learning how to compete in practice and competing against what they did the day before.”
Dudgeon has been most impressed with the improvement from last season of Rolling and 5-9 junior guard Megan Hatfield.
“A lot of the girls had some varsity time last season,” the coach said. “Hatfield could’ve moved up, but we thought she’d be better served if we kept her on (junior varsity). Hatfield is one of those gym rats. She comes in and works hard. She was primarily a JV player, but she had some varsity time late in the season. She could’ve moved up, but we needed to get her quarters. She didn’t miss any of the offseason workouts. Rolling is another girl who decided she’s going to be a great defensive player. She’s got a great work ethic. She’s just a tough kid. She comes in and does the dirty work.
“Danni Stoughton is a three-sport athlete,” he added. “She’s 5-11. She’s just long. She’s probably going to be one of our top one or two rebounders.”
Having so many players in one class has pushed chemistry to a new level.
“The chemistry is already developed,” Dudgeon said. “They’re an extremely close group. They’re always pulling for each other. The chemistry is a culture we’re trying to build in my second year. They’re playing for each other. You can’t ask for more. They’ve got to shut out the noise and share the ball.
“Going into Year 2 here with this and not having coached some of them, one of the things we’ve pushed is to take their great chemistry culture outside basketball and take it to the court. There’s no pouting. They’re invested in the program and each other.”