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Improving from six wins in Coach Kasey Mason’s first year on the job to 12 victories in her encore season left no doubt about the direction the Williamstown Lady Demons basketball program is headed.
And despite losing some key players from last season’s squad, the third-year coach and her players have their sights set higher in 2014.
Among the Lady Demons’ goals are to finish with a winning percent of .500 or better and continue to work their way closer to a 20-win season, both of which Mason feels are obtainable goals for her rising program.
But that kind of success won’t come without stiff challenges after losing four players from a year ago, including two seniors, a transfer, and another who has given up the sport. The Lady Demons also have ground to make up in depth and overall varsity experience, among other aspects of the game.
“We did lose some girls, but we have a really good core coming back,” said Mason. “In fact, we’ve got some very good players returning. But we are really young. We will likely start a junior, three sophomores and a freshman. And we don’t have any seniors.”
Junior Ashley Marksbury, who was coming on strong a year ago before an injury derailed her season, is the oldest player on the roster and will be looked upon to provide leadership as well as perform on the floor.
A trio of sophomores, Rachel Montgomery, Sammie Souder and Katie Cheek, all return with high expectations. Montgomery was one of the better players a year ago, scoring around seven points and seven rebounds per game while leading the team in assists and coming in second in steals. Souder had at least six double-doubles last season and averaged double digit rebounds down the stretch, while Cheek was one of the most consistent players on the team contributing to the Lady Demons’ cause on a nightly basis.
Freshman Michaela Kennedy, who started last year as an eighth grader, is the team’s leading returning scorer. She also led the team in steals and was third in assists while hitting better than 40 percent from behind the arch.
Freshmen Lynzie Cheek, Emily Ison and Olivia Souder will also play important minutes for the Lady Demons, while middle schoolers Shelby Gutman, Olivia Harden, Haley Howe, Jenna Johnson, Kelsi Jordan, Justice Chambers and Kiki Johnson will see plenty of playing time for the young Lady Demons.
While the older girls are likely to carry the team and log the most minutes, Mason likes the improvements she is seeing in the team’s depth, which she says is getting better all the time.
“We’ve got some girls coming on and I’m seeing some things out of some younger girls that we didn’t expect,” she said.
Playing an exciting brand of basketball has been a trademark of the team under Mason’s direction. And that won’t change. But Mason warns that fans should not expect to see the team stick to just one style of play.
“It’s going to depend on who we are matched up with that night,” she said. “The girls will tell you they want to go fast-paced and run the floor and that’s what we do best. But with the schedule we play and the teams we play, there are going to be times where we have to change it up and slow it down. I wouldn’t expect to see just one style of play.”
Work ethic is another aspect of the game that has not been an issue for the Lady Demons early in Mason’s coaching career. She lists the team’s dedication to the game as a strength, noting that many of the girls do work on their own without having to be pushed, even in the off-season when many of the girls play AAU ball.
“They’re hungry. They want to learn and do well,” Mason said. “And that’s important because a lot of times at a small school kids get complacent. But this group is not like that at all.
“The girls we have understand that you either put the time into it or you don’t make it. This is not recreation ball. And I’ve not seen a harder working group of kids since I’ve been here. They love basketball. And that’s great for me. It makes my job easier.”
While Mason lists team unity as a strength, she also sees some fault with the bond the girls have among each other.
“These girls are a very close knit group. Four of them have played together since third and fourth grade,” added Mason. “But they also don’t want to get onto each other either because they are so tight off the court.”
Height isn’t exactly a weakness for the team, but it’s certainly not a strength with a roster ranging mainly from 5-foot-4 to 5-foot-8. Montgomery is the tallest player on the team.
When Mason took over the program two years ago, she had a vision for where she wanted the Lady Demons to be in five years. Nearing the mid-way point of that time frame, she says the team is right on target to reach the goals she had set and that the improvements made by the girls have been nothing short of impressive.
And it’s because of players like Montgomery.
“We’ve seen lots of individual improvement,” Mason said. “Rachel has probably made the most improvements of anyone. It says a lot about a kid when you catch them doing things on their own when you’re not telling them to. And that’s how she is. And we have others like that, too.”
Noting that it’s not just the coaching staff’s job to teach the girls the game of basketball, it’s also their responsibility to prepare them for life, Mason points to the team’s collective 3.5 grade point average with pride.