The Winters girls’ varsity basketball team graduated 8 seniors last year and has been rebuilding the team this year. With only one player from last year’s varsity squad returning it’s taken a lot of work on the part of first year coach Brandon Postell and the team. One player from last year’s varsity team, Marley Smith, saw only limited playing time during that season. With 8 seniors on that team, Smith’s time was limited to just a handful of minutes here and there.
While the team does not have a winning record this year, the season can still be viewed as a success given how far they’ve come as a team under Postell’s direction, “We work on and rely on fundamentals and playing together as a team. These girls have never played together so we’ve worked on building team chemistry.” The work has paid off as Postell has worked on building on the team’s strength to win games, “We’ve wanted to put ourselves in position to win games. We’ve got good athletes and excellent conditioning. Defense has been a big part of our game. This is our first year playing together but the team chemistry is very good.”
Postell came in as the head coach before the beginning of the season and has been teaching the players his system of basketball. That’s taken a full buy-in from the players and you can see that they trust Postell and moreover, trust that he’s going to put them in a position to win games. His brand of basketball relies heavily on the point guard. The team’s point guard is Marley Smith and Postell believes she is the right person to lead the team on the floor, “In my system, playing point guard is the hardest thing to do. We have to have a good relationship. She’s the player who orchestrates the play on the court. Last year she only played an average of 6 minutes per game on varsity. This is 180 degrees different for her this year. She’s gotten better and put us in position to win games.”
Another player Postell has placed a great deal of confidence in is junior Karlee Busher, “Karlee is the team captain and she’s averaged a double-double (points and rebounds) during the season. She’s been injured but she’ll be back for our next game. She’s a key to success for us.” A key aspect of Postell’s coaching style is encouraging players to build off of one-another, “Karlee and Marley have done a great job. Karlee has helped Marley’s growth and leadership. When Karlee went down (with an injury), Marley really stepped up.”
It’s apparent while watching a practice that they players are absorbing all that Postell says. He isn’t a coach that yells and calls players out. Postell instructs first and teaches second. During one recent practice the players are working on defense as Postell watches. Smith is working on guarding a player. Postell instructs her on how to maneuver herself to be in position to stop the player without reaching in and fouling or letting the player get around her. Then he walks over and demonstrates the proper technique to her and the rest of the team. He doesn’t rush the instruction portion. He takes the time to properly demonstrate it and then he ensures that the whole team understands the concept and positioning. Once everyone indicates that they understand, Postell walks back out to center court to watch them go over the drill again. The players have listened, watched and learned as they begin immediately executing the defense properly. As the practice progresses the speed picks up on the drills, and the players improve, continually.
Many times in sports players can overcome poor play and still win. But they can’t overcome poor coaching and win. Postell, much like head football coach and athletic director Matt McCarty cares about the players as individuals first. There are coaches whose wrath when angered is feared by players. Then there are coaches who players worry more about disappointing than angering. Postell is one of those coaches. The players play hard because they want to win, but moreover, they want to show that they’re learning and growing, to prove to Postell that they can play at a high level and that the practices are paying off. Postell addressed the inexperience of the team, “We’re young two ways; we’re young in age and we’re young as a team.” That youth just gives the team more years to play together and grow together.
A good illustration of the evolution of the Lady Blizzards was their two games against the Miles Bulldogs. The first game was on January 8th and the Lady Blizzards lost 38-28. While their defense was able to hold Miles to less than 40 points, their offense was lacking. Postell has worked on this in practice, “We go through offensive droughts during the game. Basketball is a game of runs. You want the first run and the last run. Turnovers also kill us.” During that first game against Miles the Lady Blizzards only managed to score 2 points in the second quarter, while falling behind 20-11 at the half. In the third quarter they managed to outscore Miles 10-7. The game could have gotten out of hand easily if the Winters girls had given up. But they didn’t give up on their coach and they didn’t give up on themselves. While they lost 38-28, they never stopped fighting. Only two players were in double figures, Busher with 11 points on 3 of 11 shooting (27%) and Smith with 10 points on 3 of 18 shooting (18%). Only 3 other Winters players scored, freshman McKenzie Ventriss with 2 points on 1 of 1 shooting (100%), junior Skylar Lee with 2 points was 1 of 4 (25%) and freshman Saleen Jalomo who made one free throw. Busher and Smith accounted for 75% of team’s points. Overall the team was 8 of 54 on shooting for a 15% field goal percentage. They made 10 of 22 free throws for a 45% average.
Fast-forward 3 weeks later when Miles visits Winters. In the span of those 3 weeks the team improved even though they were in the midst of a 7 game losing streak. They kept working and kept learning. In the game, 6 of 10 Lady Blizzards put points on the board. Busher saw limited playing time due to an injury but managed to put up 5 points. Smith scored 18 points on 7 of 20 shooting to improve to 35%. Junior Miranda Rodriguez had 15 points on 5 of 11 shooting (45%). The team put up a whopping 31 shots from behind the arc. They connected on 7 for 21 points. They also went 9 of 13 on free throws for a 56% team average. Busher knocked down 83% of her free throws.
One telling stat from that second game is offensive rebounds. The Lady Blizzards brought down 23 offensive rebounds and 19 defensive rebounds for an amazing total of 42 rebounds. They also had 11 assists and 7 steals. In that game the Lady Blizzards played with a high level of energy and confidence. Smith repeatedly brought the ball up the floor, simultaneously keeping an eye on the defenders, her players and Postell. He relayed the plays to her with hand signals and she repeated them to the team. The impact was that the other players on the team weren’t all looking over at Postell for signals. Many times that happens in the game and when you have 5 players looking over at the bench, the offensive scheme is soon in shambles because players start moving at different times. In this game the players trusted Smith to relay the play to them and were all on the same page. Another important point is that Smith did not attempt any 3-point shots. Once she passed the ball to an open player and the shot went up she went in the paint. She took confident jump shots at key times during the game. Smith had 9 offensive rebounds, 1 defensive rebound, 8 assists and 3 steals. She was everywhere on the court. Lee was second on the team with 7 rebounds. Junior Jezebel Gonzales and Busher each brought in 6 rebounds. Postell points out the positives, “That was a game of two halves. We turned the game around and the team played hard.”
The Lady Blizzards had managed only 4 points in the first quarter and 9 in the second quarter, while allowing Winters to score 11 points in the first and 12 in the second. It would be the last time that Miles would outscore the Lady Blizzards in a quarter. In the third quarter Winters outscored Miles16-13 and in the fourth quarter they outscored them 23-17. The defense was stifling and the girls were doing everything possible to slow down the fast-paced Miles game. The Lady Blizzards were down 53-50 with 2 seconds on the clock. They inbounded the pass but instead of putting up a 3-point shot, they put up a 2-point shot and ended up losing 53-52. But there were positives in that; With those 2 seconds they managed to inbound the pass across the floor, in spite of an oppressive Miles defense, and they took a confident shot, and made it. Even though they lost their play showed how far the team has come this season. Postell was proud of the way the team played and welcomes stiff competition, “We don’t shy away from talented teams. We play everyone hard. Next year we want to finish 1st or 2nd in the district.”
Some will measure the Lady Blizzards by their win-loss record, but that is a myopic view of the season that doesn’t account for all that the team has accomplished. This season goes far beyond the wins and losses because it’s been successful in many aspects. Postell has seen the potential in this team and will continue to build on that, “We were dangerous this year. Even though we hadn’t played together as a team, we came together and worked hard together. The girls were battle-tested this year and played some tough teams. But, playing tough teams makes you better. We won the turnover battle about 70% of the time but we lost because we didn’t make the other teams pay for their turnovers by putting points on the board. In one game we won the turnover over battle by 7 turnovers but we lost by 10 points. That all boils down to experience.”
Anyone who has watched Winters girls’ basketball all season has seen two different teams. There was the team that came together with very little experience, having never played together, and there was the team that almost took down Miles, both offensively and defensively, but most importantly, confidently. They have grown and they have improved. Using the win-loss column as a barometer for their season is failing to take into account all that they’ve accomplished individually and together. The players have grown and matured with the experience of each game. They’ve bought-in to Postell’s system and know that he is teaching them solid fundamentals and putting them in the best position to win games. Next season the Winters Lady Blizzards basketball team will be a force on the court and will be a serious contender for the district championship.