The Indian River High School girls’ basketball team entered the 2016-2017 season determined to surpass their win total from the 2015-2016 season.
Just four games in their schedule, second-year head coach Donna Polk and her squad and already more than halfway to reaching that objective, jumping out to a 3-1 start after a 37-34 overtime victory against Delmar on Friday, Dec. 9.
“The goal is we have to be better than last year, and we always want to compete every game. That’s the first thing,” said Polk after the win over the Wildcats. “They’re more used to me, they understand the system — they came into practice excited to play basketball. That foundation is starting to be there, and they’re starting to understand what to expect.”
“Our main goal is to be better than we were yesterday,” added junior guard Fabrea McCray, one of the team’s co-captains this season, “to work together and to achieve more than we did last year.”
McCray is one of seven returners for the Indians this season, posting double-digit points in three of the first four games so far and leading the way along with senior co-captains Maggie Ford and Madi McGee.
Also returning to lineup are junior forwards Latayja Atkins and Braydee Whitman, junior guard Trayona Nock and sophomore center Julia Jordan.
Atkins was instrumental in last Friday’s win over Delmar, recording her first career double-double, with 23 points and 17 rebounds, also giving the Indians a 37-34 advantage when she put away a shot under the basket on an assist from Ford with just 0:34 left to go in overtime.
Along with Jordan at center, the junior standout gives the Indians some size to work with down low, the potential of which Polk said was just starting to show.
“We’re trying to get the high-low thing working with Latayja and Julia,” she explained. “We’ve seen glimpses of it, so, hopefully, by midseason we’ll see how it could work out.”
Key newcomers have so far included sophomore guard Danasia Wise, who was sidelined for the Delmar game with an injury but expected to return; sophomore guard Rebecca Crites, who transferred to IR this fall; and freshman Kayley Belzner, who served as a captain and helped lead Selbyville Middle School to a 5-4 record as an eighth-grader last year.
“I think we definitely have some solid pieces on the court,” said Polk of the lineup. “We know what we’re capable of doing. We just need to put in the work. We’re taking it game by game and improving from the mistakes that we made.”
After heading into halftime with a 20-11 lead against the Wildcats on Friday but going on to manage only one basket in the third quarter, and with the game eventually making its way into to overtime, Polk said that she was proud of the way that her squad kept their composure and held out for the win.
“One of the things that I told them was that I appreciate how no one really faltered or fell apart,” she explained. “Even after a disappointment — a missed shot to a turnover — we were able to get back. That showed a lot of character in terms of what they stand for.”
“I know Delmar switched to a man defense in the second half, and that was very different than what they did in the first half,” said Ford of the change in the second half. “I think it took us a little while to figure out what we were doing on offense.”
After finally getting back into an offensive groove and hanging on for the win, the Indians improved to 2-0 in the Henlopen South headed into their Tuesday, Dec. 13, matchup against Woodbridge, taking down the Blue Raiders 42-29 to improve to 3-0 in the South and 4-1 overall.
Jordan led the scoring with 12 points in that game, with McGee knocking down a pair of three-pointers and finishing with 10 points, and McCray and Nock finishing with nine and seven points, respectively.
Up next, the girls will get ready for the Pat Borowski Tournament, set for Lake Forest High School on Tuesday, Dec. 27, and Wednesday, Dec. 28, before returning from winter break with a home matchup against Milford on Tuesday, Jan. 3, at 5 p.m.
IR vs. Delmar:
Points: L. Atkins (23), R. Crites (4), F. McCray (4), M. Ford (2), J. Jordan (2), T. Nock (2)
Assists: F. McCray (2), M. Ford (1)
Rebounds: L. Atkins (17), J. Jordan (8), M. Ford (4), R. Crites (3), T. Nock (2), B. Whitman (1)
Steals: L. Atkins (4), M. Ford (3), T. Nock (3), R. Crites (2), J. Jordan (2), F. McCray (1)
Blocks: J. Jordan (2), L. Atkins (2)