It didn’t take long for Clay’s girls basketball team to surpass last season’s win total.
The Eagles, under first-year coach Corey Slovak, lost their season opener to Delta but came back to beat Fremont Ross and Lake to improve to 2-1. It should be noted that Clay had just three wins combined the previous two years, including a 1-20 mark last season.
“We’re taking baby steps as far as turning around the program,” Slovak said.
The Eagles’ only win last season came in mid-January, against Ross, but this year they earned win No. 3 over the holidays against Toledo Area Athletic Conference favorite Toledo Christian.
“That was big for us,” Slovak said. “It was probably our best 32 minutes we’ve played. I was hoping we’d turn the corner, but we’re still a work in progress.”
Clay, which usually has a height disadvantage against most opponents, was averaging just 39 points a game through 13 games. The Eagles hit a rough stretch recently, losing to Springfield, Findlay and Bryan to fall to 3-10 and 1-5 in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference. They were set to play St. Ursula Academy on Thursday.
“We did not play well at all against Springfield,” Slovak said. “We hung with Findlay for a half and then their size got to us. We took a step back last Saturday when we lost at home to Bryan.”
Slovak is the Eagles’ third coach in three years. Last year’s coach, Kevin Crosson, battled health issues and had to turn the program over to Slovak, who was his assistant coach last year. Clay has 11 sophomores and nine freshmen playing at the junior varsity and varsity level, and Slovak said the older players have been “fantastic and done everything I’ve asked of them.”
“The girls aren’t quitting,” he said. “Some days we don’t look very pretty on the basketball floor, but they battle whether we’re down five or 25. We’re going to play like it’s 0-0, start to finish. I’m hoping it pays off down the road.”
Morgan Connor, a 5-6 sophomore guard, leads the team in scoring (9.7 ppg.), rebounding (5.1 rpg.) and steals (31).
“The girl’s got ridiculously good instincts,” Slovak said. “Right now she’s doing a very nice job of getting shots off. For a sophomore, she’s not shy. I would like her shot selection to be better, but experience will take care of that. She’s not a big leaper and she’s not tall, but she always seems to be in the right place for defensive rebounds.”
Sophomore guard Sam Enck is the Eagles’ second leading scorer but is averaging just 5.3 points per game.
“She’s a very good defender and I’m proud of her progression,” Slovak said. “She’s only a sophomore, so she’s learning on the fly.”
Junior Kayla Schaefer leads the team in assists and has shared the point guard position with senior Tylor Brummett.
“Kayla is more of an offensive threat, while Tylor is a better on-the-ball defender,” Slovak said. “Both have done a fairly solid job for what I need them to do.”
Other players who have started consistently are senior forward Sam Charchol, junior guard Morgan Kovacs and sophomore guard Hannah Novak. Sophomore guard Haley Orr comes off the bench.
“I wish I had 12 Haleys in terms of attitude and effort,” Slovak said. “She is an excellent defender, she really pays attention in practice and is an excellent role model. I’m looking forward to having her two more years.”
During the preseason Slovak said the Eagles would have to rely on defense to keep them in games. The coach admitted that has been the case most of the season.
“With our lack of size, we’re pretty much being controlled on the boards,” he said. “We played Notre Dame and it was a three-point game halfway through the third quarter. Against Perrysburg it was a one-point game three minutes into the third quarter. The type of defense we’re playing is keeping us there. We’ve been OK through two or three quarters but at this point, with our youth and inexperience, in our league we’re not a four-quarter team yet.”