If you have not yet seen a quality City League girls’ basketball game, do it.
It can be impressive just watching the state-ranked Start Spartans or their City League foe, the Waite Indians, play basketball.
“We like to keep it competitive and exciting,” Waite coach Manny May said. “That’s our job as coaches, is to get it to the next level. I’m happy the fans are enjoying it.”
The much-anticipated matchup does not happen until Feb. 19 at Waite’s Grant Murray Field House.
“That’s at the end of the season in February when we play Start, but that’s something we’re not even looking forward to that point. I mean, that’s down the road. We’ve got plenty of games before that time before we can assess that game itself,” May said.
Waite remains undefeated in seven games, and this Wednesday the 2-4 Clay Eagles will have the dubious pleasure of hosting their east side rivals.
Clay coach Roger Achter knows his players will have their work cut out for them. With no player taller than 5-7, handling the 6-3 senior forward Natasha Howard and 6-2 junior forward Shanice McNeal is going to be a challenge.
“I think Start has the better individual talent, but I think right now Waite is playing better than Start,” Coach Achter said.
“It’s no secret. If there’s anything we’re going to have to do, No. 1 is we’re going to have to make sure we handle their full court pressure,” Achter continued. “They put Howard at the top and we’ve got to make sure that when we throw over the top it doesn’t get deflected or stolen.
“Also, we have to make sure we attack the basket once we break the press. Last year, we did a great job of that and we had an opportunity to beat them. We were winning with two minutes to go in the game. We had the lead the entire game and then with two minutes remaining in the game, Howard finally took over.
“Of course, right now Howard is playing better than anybody in the area. I mean, she is playing phenomenal.”
Waite has defeated Cleveland East, Shaker Heights, and Dublin Coffman in non-league action and already has league wins over Libbey, Notre Dame, St. Ursula, and Bowsher.
The Indians have put 77 and 69 points up on two opponents, 74 on Libbey and 61 on Notre Dame Academy, and routed a strong Dublin Coffman team, 68-40. The most scored against the Indians — 49.
The player to watch right now — the Florida State-bound Howard.
“She’s doing real well. She’s meeting her expectations,” May said. “She’s improving each game along with the team. The point is that each person needs to improve every team we go out, so she’s improving immensely.”
Howard and McNeal are both averaging double figures in scoring and rebounding.
“We have pretty much what you call a veteran group,” Coach May said. “We have seniors and juniors who have been playing together and some sophomores, but a lot of veterans who are really playing together as a unit.
“That said, you have Courtney Jackson and Brooke Hunt at the right side, and Mariah Haynes, and you have Shanice McNeal and Natasha Howard at the posts, and the posts are really doing a great job. They are working as a team down there in that paint area.
“Brooke is averaging double figures in points, and Mariah and Courtney are very close to it at seven, eight points a game. It is what it is at this time,” May continued.
May still sees some areas where the team needs to improve, as does any coach.
“We have a lot of things to improve upon. We still aren’t playing to the capability of doing what we need to do to get the wins that we’ll need,” May said.
“We need to improve on our overall defense. I think that’s the most important thing for me that we are just improving on that on a daily basis and executing on offense,” the Waite coach continued.
“I think I want to improve on that every time I’m out. It’s that way with every coach, isn’t it? You know, I want to improve on everything — even the small things — the rebounding and the offensive things, cutting down turnovers, running your offensive plays and sets and playing fundamental basketball.
“I don’t think we’re giving up a lot of points. My issue is that we stay focused and that they play hard throughout the game. That is my big thing.”
Waite was to play at Lima Shawnee, Dec. 30. May said he was planning on attending Clay’s game at Springfield Dec. 29 to prepare for the upcoming contest with his east side rival.
“He’s not going to need to scout is because they are better at every single position and they are taller at every single position,” Achter said. “The thing is if we take care of the basketball and make them defend a little bit, it could be interesting for a while.”
May already has some knowledge what the Clay Eagles are all about.
“They are very small but scrappy. Roger always has his team prepared to play regardless,” May said.
Nikki Steinmetz, who averaged 8.6 points last season, is the Eagles’ top returning scorer. She had a game-high 13 points in Clay’s 53-26 season-opening win over visiting Fremont Ross on Nov. 28. The Eagles also have a City League victory over Whitmer.
“Against Fremont, we just full court pressed them and out hustled them. Against Whitmer, we played really, really hard again, but then we shot the ball extremely well,” Achter said. “We had eight three’s against Whitmer, but since the Whitmer game we’re not even shooting 30 percent from the floor.
“We’ve got a couple girls who can shoot it, but the problem is right now they are not shooting the ball very well. We’ve played a lot better competition than those two teams and that always makes it tough.”
Clay’s four losses have been to Start, Perrysburg, Notre Dame, and Rogers.
“We’re struggling. Right now, we’re playing hard and so forth. I can’t complain about the effort that we’re getting, but right now we’re just so short and we’re struggling right now for a go-to person.
“The thing I’ve always said is, ‘I wouldn’t trade my girls for anything just because of the fact they are coachable and they play hard,’ and they are our own girls.”