Besides installing his system and improving his players’ fundamentals, David Loper is finding that his most imposing challenge with the players on his Fairfield High School girls basketball team is convincing them they can compete in the rugged Greater Miami Conference.
“What I like is their enthusiasm and their drive,” Loper said. “They’re working hard. We’re working on fundamentals like everybody else, and we’re putting in our scheme — the Xs and Os and so forth. I like our enthusiasm and our excitement. That’s the good news.
“The bad news is getting them to understand that they can be competitive — that, if they work hard, they can surprise some people.”
Loper welcomes back seven of the top 10 scorers from last season’s team which finished 15-9 overall and 11-5 in the GMC, good for a tie with Princeton for third place. The Indians reached the second round of the Division I sectional.
Leading the way is 5-foot junior guard Zahrya Bailey, who led Fairfield last season with an average of 11.5 points per game on her way to earning a berth on the All-GMC second team.
GIRLS BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEWS
“Z is in her third year on the varsity and second as a starter,” Loper said.
Bailey is one of a number of non-seniors who has varsity experience.
“I only have two seniors,” Loper pointed out. “All of my kids are pretty experienced at playing at the varsity level, outside of a couple. My guards are very experienced. We’ve got to get some inside presence.”
The next highest-scoring returnee is 5-10 junior forward Maddie Schaeffer, who averaged nearly 8 points per game and led Fairfield with her 6.8 rebound average.
Also back are 5-7 junior guard Kelis Jones, 5-6 junior forward Addie Kidd, 5-3 sophomore guard Journee Hicks, 5-5 sophomore guard Zaria Black and 5-7 senior forward Adriannah Williams.
Fortifying Fairfield’s crowded backcourt is 5-4 junior guard Shaniyah Reese, a transfer from Lakota East, where she averaged 4.4 points per game last season.
So many experienced guards can make filling out a lineup card difficult, but Loper isn’t concerned.
“People put a lot of emphasis on the starting five, but I could start anybody and pull them within 10 seconds,” he said. “We have some seasoned veterans. We don’t put a lot of emphasis on who starts or gets their name announced.
“Reese is a good addition for us. All of the other kids are filling in quite well. It all depends on who works hard in practice and proves that they deserve to get their name called out. A big key is I like our depth. We tend to play a lot of kids.”
Loper was pleased to see significant improvement from where they left off last season in players such as Jones, Hicks and Williams.
“Those three have really come along and surprised us with how well they’re playing and working,” he said. “Even Schaeffer, she’s come a long way. She’s getting better.”
Fairfield fans should expect to see this season’s team take approaches similar to previous teams, Loper said.
“I like up-tempo, especially getting points off up-tempo,” he said. “Defense all depends on matchups and who we’re playing and so forth. We try to not be predictable. That’s the key.”
The Indians will begin the season Nov. 24 against Chaminade Julienne in the first round of the Walnut Hills Kickoff Classic, and their GMC opener is Nov. 29 at Lakota East.
Loper expects the GMC to be more competitive than perhaps it’s been in recent seasons. Fairfield has never won an outright conference championship, but the Indians have shared four titles, the last with Middletown in the 1977-1978 season.
“Princeton is going to be good, especially in the second half of the season when their transfers become eligible,” he said. “Sycamore is improved. Lakota East is solid as always. (Defending co-champions) Lakota West and Mason are definitely going to be good, but watch out for Princeton. They’re going to surprise some people. Sycamore may surprise some people too.”