The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent state of Michigan shutdowns and pauses have left teams scrambling. Zoom meetings and online film sessions had substituted for practice sessions..
There has been very little person-to-person contact between coaches and players. At Southgate Anderson, for instance, between the summer shutdown and the late fall pause, Southgate girls basketball coach Larry Sakalas has had all of three days with his team on the court.
But that hasn’t dampened the Titans’ team spirit. If anything it has increased.
“I may have the best seniors, captains and leaders that I have had in all my years coaching,” said Sakalas.
Those seniors, captains Ava Peryam and Natalie Beltran, who along with Faith Plummer, have called outdoor practice and team get-togethers and made sure this year’s team would be ready when the time came to play.
“Those kids have been amazing,” Sakalas said. “They have been calling the other girls and getting them together to do things. During the summer they got together and practiced and played basketball at the park and sent me videos of it. They have been great.”
It has all kind of set the stage for a season that Sakalas is looking forward to.
“This is a pretty well-rounded team,” the Southgate coach said. “The girls are working hard, even on their own. They are not messing around, they are getting after it.”
It is a bit of an unusual mix that Anderson has this season with just four seniors, one sophomore and a bunch of juniors. But one of the seniors, Paige Hester, and two of the juniors, Riely Thacker and Emma Patrick, are former basketball players back after taking a season off. Sakalas said he hopes that gives them a leg up on understanding the program.
Three other juniors, Miranda Graham, McKenna Frietas and Autumn Bolash, played major minutes last year as sophomores and should be more than ready to shoulder a great load.
“It is an unusual team in that we have just the four seniors, but we are really experienced,” said Sakalas.
The three seniors will lead the way and the Titans have the advantage of playing Plummer in the post. Not too many teams can match-up with a 6-foot-2 player in the front court. Plummer ran cross country in the fall and that should give her great stamina to go along with her height.
In the past few years the Titans have been a little disjointed on the court, Sakalas said. He can already see that going away already. He commented on how well the current team meshes and shares the ball rather than relying on one or two players to take charge.
“I am kind of excited to see how this season goes, when and if we ever get started,” he said.
He added that there has been a great deal of coaching turnover in the Downriver League the past few seasons and because of that (as well limited scouting because of the pandemic) has left him scratching his head about who the top teams will be.