A year ago, entering the 2017-2018 basketball campaign, Stephenville High School’s girls squad had all five starters back from the previous season. That included 5-10 forward Jayci Morton, who at the time was coming off an all-region and all-state sophomore season.
This year, Morton and Alee McClendon are the only two players back who saw major playing time for SHS head girls coach Alan Thorpe. McClendon, a 5-11 sophomore post, was moved up to the varsity during her freshman year and made a big impact despite playing in only 13 varsity games.
The Honeybees finished last season with a 19-15 record, reaching the regional quarterfinal round of the playoffs after with two postseason wins. They were eliminated in the third round by Abilene Wylie, which was ranked third in the state at the time.
Thorpe lost five seniors from that squad.
“The biggest difference is inexperience,” Thorpe said of his 2018-2019 unit.
In addition to Morton and McClendon, the others on the 10-player varsity roster to begin the season are seniors Madison Gilder, Hannah Bernays, Hannah Powell, Kaylee Dahl and Autumn Nichols, along with juniors Kassidy Nowak and Jetti Funderburgh, plus sophomore Mikayla Diaz.
The players coming up from last year’s junior varsity team posted an impressive 28-1 season record, including an unblemished district record.
“Bernays and Gilder were on the varsity,” Thorpe said. “It’s been a while since we’ve returned that few.
‘We’ve got pretty decent speed. We’re not as quick as last year’s team. We shoot the ball pretty well. They’ll get better on defense. Defense will be a big part of it.”
The Honeybees played their regular-season opener on Monday at Class 3A Millsap, where they took a 76-46 victory.
Morton and McClendon were still with the volleyball team in the playoffs, so they missed that game. Bernays was the leading scorer with 28 points, shooting 73 percent from the field. As a team, the Honeybees sank 23 of 25 free throws.
“They were all a little nervous,” Thorpe said of the opener. “I thought our offense did a great job. There were some things defensively we need to work on. Shooting-wise, we did a great job.”
The next game is set for Tuesday at home in Gandy Gym against Class 5A Granbury, with the varsity set to start at 6:30 p.m.
Thorpe earned his 500th victory as a head girls basketball coach last December. He has had only one varsity team that missed the playoffs during his 18 seasons of coaching, which came in two different stints at SHS.
Thorpe said the younger players “did a great job this summer. They got to play and got chemistry. It’s gotten better.”
Thorpe said that Morton’s leadership ability should be a big help this season with the younger players.
“She’s grown up a bunch,” Thorpe said. “I think she will take charge in that role. She’s always been our leading scorer, and I don’t look for that to change.”
Morton and McClendon were the team’s top two rebounders at the end of last season.
“Plus, they both played a lot this summer,” Thorpe said. “Those two will be a big help.”
Morton led SHS in scoring, averaging 10.2 points per game last season, and in rebounding with an average of 6.9 per outing.
McClendon averaged 6.1 rebounds and 6 points.
“She is a kind of rare breed,” Thorpe said of McClendon. “Not a lot of players have a nose for the ball on a missed shot. She tries to get every rebound. It’s nice to have that.
“Her shot’s gotten better since last year. I think she will contribute more on the offensive side.”
Thorpe noted that both Nowak and Diaz are playing at a high level, along with Funderburgh. Nowak can be a pest on defense, he said.
“Kassidy’s just a gnat. She gets all over you,” Thorpe said. “She’s really fun to watch on defense.”
Thorpe noted that Nichols is a senior and added, “She’s got a nice shot from outside.”
UP TO SPEED
The coach said he will be eager to see the younger players play solid basketball at the varsity game’s faster speed — but remain under control.
“I’m hoping we will be at that stage before Christmas,” Thorpe said. “I don’t want us to be our own worst enemy.”
He also said that it’s important for the younger players to contribute enough that Morton and McClendon don’t feel that have too large of a burden.
“I know we can do that,” Thorpe said. “We will try to adapt out personnel. but basically this team’s similar to what last year’s team was.”
Thorpe predicted that the District 7-4A alignment will be “a tossup.”
Each of the five teams — Brownwood, Glen Rose, Godley, Mineral Wells and the Honeybees — made the playoffs last season.
“It’s going to be a very competitive district,” Thorpe said.