Clay’s girls basketball team took an impressive 8-3 record into Thursday night’s scheduled game against Three Rivers Athletic Conference rival Notre Dame Academy, the fourth-ranked Division I team in the state.
Concerning that record, Eagles coach Corey Slovak on Tuesday offered this caveat: Clay has yet to face the meat of its TRAC schedule.
“We haven’t hit Notre Dame, Lima Senior or Whitmer yet,” he said. “I’m looking just to be competitive against Notre Dame. They will challenge us with their experience and size. They have two 6-footers and a 5-11. I don’t start a girl taller than 5-8, so our size will be a disadvantage.”
A lack of size has been the Eagles’ Achilles heel for several years now, but this year’s squad has found ways to be competitive. Clay won three of its first four TRAC games, against Findlay, Fremont Ross and St. Ursula Academy, and lost to Central Catholic.
“These girls epitomize what it means to be a team,” Slovak said. “We don’t have that one girl who is going to go out and get us 25 a night. We don’t have that 6-2 girl who is going to be a defensive stopper. They’ve bought into who we are. We are small, so we have to use our team speed. We have shooters, so we look to shoot the 3-ball. We are aggressive. We play 90 feet. I tell them if you’re open, shoot it. That’s how we have to play. At this point, it’s worked.”
The Eagles have pretty much the same group of players they had last season, when they averaged 39 points a game. This year’s team averages 61 points a game.
“We’re probably averaging 20-24 points a game off assists,” Slovak said. “We’re cutting down on turnovers, too. That’s helping.”
The Eagles’ top scorer, junior guard Morgan Connor, averages 16.1 points and a has a team-high 30 steals. Connor shoots 41 percent from behind the arc and has scored in double figures in all 11 games.
“She’s been solid for us the entire year,” Slovak said. “She’s been our most consistent scorer. We’ ve been scouted by everyone, so she’s scoring knowing she’s going to get the other team’s attention. She can spot up or create her own shot and she gets to the basket pretty good. With her feet set, she is a pretty dead-eye shooter.”
Sophomore guard Haley Hess, the Eagles’ sixth man, averages 13.9 points a game. Slovak said Hess, who shoots 40 percent from 3-point range and 66 percent inside the arc, has no trouble scoring off the bench.
“I love her as the sixth man, because she is instant offense,” Slovak said. “If we get off to a slow start, she can get us back in the game. She plays the point for us when she’s in the game, and it’s nice to have that. I like having her as that go-to girl off the bench right away.”
Junior guard Sam Enck averages nine points and is one of the team’s top defenders along with Haley Orr, according to Slovak.
“We are getting some scoring out of Sam, and she always (guards) the other teams’s best offensive player,” Slovak said. “She gets a lot of points in transition and going to the basket. She’s not that big, but she does a nice job of getting herself in position to make layups. She’s been in double figures three out of the last four games, and she’s doing a nice job of getting to the free throw line.”
Orr, a junior guard, averages just under four points a game but that doesn’t concern Slovak. Orr is known as Clay’s defensive specialist.
“She’s smart,” Slovak said. “You get her on the court and she plays like she’s in a bad mood. She plays defense with kind of that chip on her shoulder, and she’s very selfless. She’s not worried about scoring or being a big part of our offense. She knows her role very well.”
The Eagles’ other starters are sophomore Hannah Hess, who at 5-8 is the team’s tallest starter, and senior guard Kayla Schafer, who leads the team with nearly four assists per game.
“Kayla has done a lot of things well for us recently that don’t have to deal with her scoring,” Slovak said. “She’s being the quarterback on the floor and playing pretty good defense. She’s done a nice job of minimizing turnovers.
Hannah Hess averages nearly nine points and a team-best four rebounds a game.
“Hannah is going to be an outstanding player,” Slovak said. “She’s getting better at getting to the basket and she’s a good shooter. I wish Hannah would shoot it more. Sometimes she is a little too indecisive on the floor, but we’re working on that.”
Slovak added that the Eagles have two main goals from here on out.
“We want to finish in the top half of the TRAC, which will require us to beat one of the established teams,” he said. “We also want to get to districts. Those are two things we believe are realistic and still very challenging for us.”