By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (November 6, 2017) — With all five starters and returning from a regional tournament team, Stephenville head coach Alan Thorpe has every reason to be excited about the beginning of the Honeybee basketball season.
The Bees host Millsap at 6: 30 p.m. Tuesday at Gandy Gym, where sub-varsity play starts at 5:30 p.m.
While he is enjoying having an experienced group to work with, Thorpe cautions that he is far from the only coach in the region with that advantage.
“It seems like everybody who was good in the region had a young team last year,” said Thorpe, who has 491 career wins including 393 in his 17 previous seasons leading the Honeybees. “You can’t take anything for granted in this region, because the list of teams you have to go through just to get to Lubbock for the regional is so tough it’s ridiculous.”
Godley won the region and has two starters returning, though current Tarleton State guard Mikaila Tyer and Jaycee Panell are both gone. Levelland eliminated Stephenville and Thorpe says its team all returns, while Midland Greenwood was the other regional qualifier and returns most its roster.
Glen Rose has a lot back after being eliminated in the regional quarterfinals by Stephenville. They join Godley and upstart Midlothian Heritage in making 8-4A what Thorpe says “has to be one of the toughest districts in the state.”
Brownwood, Thorpe believes, returns all but one from their club that Stephenville eliminated last season, and he expects Decatur and Graham to also be good.
Of course, coaches of those teams are all reigning in their excitement when they see that Stephenville has all five starters back. They may also shiver a little while thinking what that means for when teams try to bring the ball up court against the Bees.
“Oh yeah, we’re still going to press and be intense defensively, that’s what we do,” said Thorpe. “We won’t have any size, but we will be very quick and that we like to use that quickness to take teams out of their comfort zone and force turnovers and bad shots.”
The Bees have Jordan Carter back at the point guard, and Thorpe will be looking at her – and her sister Madison when she comes off the bench – to slow the Bees down and get them into their offense.
“One of the things I’ve noticed in preseason is we play so fast defensively and the girls try to carry that over offensively, and it just doesn’t work,” explains the veteran coach. “We’re going faster than we can execute and getting sloppy, so I have reign it in some, and Jordan helps with that. She’s good about backing it out.”
Hailey Martin returns alongside Carter in the back court. Versatile guard/forward starters Jayci Morton and Payton Wall will again alternate playing the 3 and 4 spots, even switching offensively and defensively at times. Tess Baker anchors the 5.
Senior guard Kristen Pettit could provide some of the added depth Thorpe is looking for. Not as experienced on the hardwood as her classmates, Pettit still possesses the lateral quickness of a defensive specialist in volleyball, and the straight ahead speed of a track standout.
Thorpe said Morton, entering her third varsity season as a junior, has added elements to her game.
“I really think Jayci will be tough to defend because right after we lost in the regional tournament she was in the gym working on her shot,” he said. “Her 3-point shot has improved tremendously, so she can play inside-out more than last year and cuss some mismatches.”
There will always be adjustments to expose mismatches, but Thorpe doesn’t expect making any wholesale changes.
“We haven’t had to stop and teach hardly anything for the first time. I’t’s mostly been pick up and go,” said Thorpe. “We’re experimenting with a couple new looks, but we’re always doing that. The girls are still learning and I’m still learning. That’s what I enjoy most about a new season, is trying new stuff you’ve learned since last year.”
Besides the six familiar faces, there are junior varsity move-ups in juniors Madison Gilder and Hannah Bernays. Thorpe is still in the process of deciding when to bring up 5-10 sophomore post Mikayla Diaz, who he expects to contribute at the varsity level before the season ends.
The schedule gets increasingly more difficult following Millsap in the opener. Ganbury is good and Thorpe has heard reports of a couple move-ins there. Aledo, Jacksboro and Jim Ned are other opponents he expects to be tough, and there should also be difficult competition in tournament play in Brownsboro.
“That’s a 36-team tournament, and from what I’ve heard it’s always super tough,” Thorpe said. “We’re going to know where we’re at going into district, that’s for sure.”
So where are they now?
” We have a long way to go before we’re where I want us to be,” said Thorpe. “But we’re closer than we were at the begging of last season. I like where we’re at.”
A QUICK LOOK AT THE HONEYBEES:
Head coach/Years at School (including this year): 18
Record at School: 383-195
Overall Record as Head Coach: 491-324
Assistant Coaches: Kristi Mayes, Mike Fowler
2016-17 Record: 27-8
2016-17 District record, finish: 10-2, 2nd
2016-17 Playoff round reached: Region I-4A Semi Finals
Number of returning starters: 5
Number of returning lettermen: 6
Name returning starters/position: Jordan Carter/guard, Hailey Martin/guard, Jayci Morton/forward, Payton Wall/forward, Tess Baker/post
Other key players returning: Madison Carter/guard
Top varsity newcomers: Madison Gilder/guard, Hannah Bernays/forward