The St. Clairsville girls basketball team is "hungry."
According to third-year head coach Alicia Freeman, the Lady Red Devils are ready, willing and anxious to take the next step.
"These girls are ready to win," Freeman said. "They talk about goals each day and they're working extremely hard to get there. They realize what's ahead of them and they can be good this year, so they've worked hard to get it."
T-L Photo/SETH STASKEY
PICTURED IS the 2013-14 St. Clairsville girls basketball team. Front row, from left, are Ashten Cenkus, Carlee Gillespie, Lauren Figura, Brigee Mick and Alexis St. Clair. Middle row, from left, are Mikayla Westlake, Hannah Jordan, Stephanie Sliva, Anna DeFilippo, Tiffany DeNoble and Irene Heath. Back row, from left, are manager Hannah Elerick, Jada Greer, Sydney Freeman, Sarah Heidelbach, Emma Lewis, Jess Donda and Mechenzie Wood.
The Lady Devils narrowly missed qualifying for the OVAC Class 4A tournament last season and were bounced in the first round of the Division III sectional by West Muskingum.
Obviously, with the mindset the Lady Red Devils have practiced with, their attitudes and work ethics have translated into good practices and scrimmages as they prepared for tonight's season opener against Barnesville.
"I really like the attitude of this team," Freeman said. "These girls are ready to win. And it would be much deserved because we have struggled to get over the .500 mark and into the win column with regularity, so they're due. I think we're ready, but we'll have to stay focused and healthy."
Health is paramount, considering one of Freeman's chief concerns is a lack of depth.
"Compared to last year, our bench is thin," Freeman said. "We don't have a lot of depth, but we're working hard and playing every situation in practice like its the fourth quarter to make sure everyone's conditioned as well as possible. We want to be able to play in the fourth quarter like we did in the first quarter."
One of the Lady Red Devils' achilles heels last season was scoring the basketball. According to Freeman, a lot of time was invested during the summer on shooting drills and becoming more offensively minded.
"A big part of everything we've done since June is focused on being more competitive on the offensive end," Freeman said. "We were extremely focused on the defensive end during my first two seasons and that doesn't stop, but we have to put the ball in the basket. We need makers, instead of shooters, so we've been focusing a lot more on that."
When asked about her team's strengths, Freeman didn't hesitate.
"We have great foot speed and we're quick as lightning," Freeman noted. "We're definitely excited about how fast we are. I grew up under Mickey Blatnik and he liked to press, so that's what I know. We hope to use that athleticism to generate some easy scoring chances for us."
St. Clairsville will need to shoot the ball well because it doesn't have a player on its roster standing taller than 5-ft-8.
"We're definitely not the biggest team you're going to see, but our girls will play hard and be scrappy," Freeman said. "We have a lot of girls who play much bigger than their size."
The Lady Red Devils return their leading scorer in junior Alexis St. Clair (5-6), who can play both inside or outside. She netted 12 points a game last year.
"Alexis has really gotten stronger and you can see a big difference in her play because of that," Freeman said. "She's an all-around player and an outstanding rebounder."
Senior Brigee Mick (5-5) is a player who Freeman wants to see get more involved with the offense.
"She's worked hard on her shot and we'll need her to score more," Freeman said.
Sophomore Anna DeFilippo (5-7) is a talented guard. She'll take over the point guard responsibilities.
"Anna loves the game and plays it year round," Freeman said. "We asked her to work on a lot of things and she did it all. She understands the game well, has gotten stronger and handles it well."
Senior Carlee Gillespie (5-5) will be one of the key players on both ends for the Lady Devils.
"Carlee is quick and good on defense," Freeman said. "She's worked hard on her shot, but she's also able to get out and score a lot of her points in transition. Plus, she's a terror on defense."
Senior Lauren Figura (5-6) is back after a solid junior season. She's one of the top perimeter shooters for the Lady Devils.
"Lauren will play a big role for us," Freeman explained. "She's worked a lot on her post moves and she's coming along well. She has quick feet and can play inside and outside."
The top substitutes for the Lady Red Devils are expected to be junior Ashten Cenkus (5-4), who Freeman says plays like a 6-footer, and Stephanie Sliva (5-8), who the head coach says has worked her way into the rotation and will see quality minutes.
Three other sophomores battling for minutes include: Irene Heath (5-4), MiKayla Westlake (5-5) and Tiffany DeNoble (5-6).
The freshmen class consists of Emma Lewis (5-8), Sarah Heidelbach (5-3), Sydney Freeman (5-4), Jada Greer (5-3), Jess Donda (5-5), Mechenzie Wood (5-5) and Hannah Jordan (5-5).
"We have seven solid varsity players and then we have to look to some younger kids, so they're working hard to get better every day," Freeman said. "It's tough to throw those young girls to the wolves of varsity basketball, but we may have to ease them in there."
Lost due to graduation were Alicia Avila, Ashleigh Moulder, Emily Delguzzo, Haylee Skukan and Sara Work.
St. Clairsville's schedule is identical to 2012-13. Along with 14 Buckeye 8 and two OVAC games, the Lady Devils will tangle twice with Barnesville, Bridgeport and River.
"I am excited about the schedule," Freeman said. "It's a tough schedule, but a schedule that's good for us. I think the Buckeye 8 will be tough, so we will have to be ready to play each night. We're just taking it one day at a time and one game at a time. We can't get ahead of ourselves. If we stay focused on the challenge in front of us, which is getting better each day, we'll be fine."
Freeman's coaching staff at the varsity level returns in tact. Stacey Agnew and Tom Sliva are the top aides. Rosa Young and Olivia Pokas are working with the eighth and seventh grade, respectively.