Faces Missing But Eagles Still Team to Beat

Head coach Chris Jones (left) and assistant coach Andy Nieters watch players in practice this week.
BHS girls basketball head coach Chris Jones (left) and assistant coach Andy Nieters watch players in practice this week. They’re starting their fifth season with the program and have had winning records each year. (All photos by Steve Bowman)

Most starters return from 21-4 season

 
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
Email: bowmansj@sbcglobal.net

Offseasons are supposed to be quiet for a high school basketball program. You have a banquet, the seniors graduate and all last year’s underclassmen join the new crop of freshmen in a summer league.

Sophia Rivera in practice.
Sophia Rivera goes through a layup drill in practice.

Brentwood girls coach Chris Jones would love that scenario but for the second year in a row his program has drama instead.

A year ago the Eagles were preparing to begin the season without their leading scorer and two starting guards from the year before. All three were still in school but decided not to play. Amazingly, two freshmen stepped in and keyed the team to one of the best seasons in school history. BHS went 21-4, dominated the conference and nearly upset the top seed in the district playoffs.

But during this past offseason, more drama. One of the fab freshmen from last year, Nija Price, is ineligible to play in the first semester, so she’ll miss the first half dozen games or so. Also, five other players didn’t come back out, most notably senior forward Emma Holmes and sophomore center Caroline Snare.

That leaves only eight players on the roster, nine if Price returns, compared to 14 a year ago. Faced with the lowest turnout in their five seasons at BHS, Jones and assistant coach Andy Nieters have canceled the junior varsity schedule.

“Last season I thought we had a small team with 14 or 15 girls,” said senior center Sophia Rivera. “This year we have eight on a good day.”

“It’s a challenge,” said Jones. “With so few players you have to adjust the drills and practice schedules. They don’t play hard against themselves, so I wish I had someone I could bring in just to scrimmage with them.”

Amanda Ingersoll (left) and Abby Harper try to stop a Whitfield player's layup in a scrimmage game last week. The Eagles played two quarters against each of three teams. They went 2-0 against blah, 1-1 vs. blah and 0-2 against Whitfield.
Amanda Ingersoll (left) and Abby Harper try to stop a Whitfield player’s layup in a preseason jamboree last week at BHS. The Eagles played two quarters against each of three teams. They went 2-0 against Villa Duchesne, 1-1 vs. Union and 0-2 against Whitfield.

Core is back

And yet Brentwood still deserves to be considered the team to beat in the South Central Athletic Association Conference. They went 8-0 in the South Central last year and outscored those teams by an average margin of 30 points.

Leading that offense was all-district point guard Marshelle Franklin, now a sophomore. She and Price each averaged about 16 points a game and she was among the top five in the St. Louis area in steals and in assists.

“Marshelle is one of the best point guards in the area,” said Jones.

Marshelle Franklin cuts through the Whitfield defense last week.
Marshelle Franklin cuts through the Whitfield defense last week.

At the other guard position is senior Abby Harper, who made all-conference.

Abby Harper tries to get through Whitfield in the preseason jamboree.
Abby Harper tries to get through Whitfield in the preseason jamboree.

Expect Harper and Franklin to dish a lot of assists inside to all-conference center Sophia Rivera. She’s 6 feet tall and long-armed, and has so much strength and athleticism that she’ll receive a full-ride scholarship for track and field at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Last season she led the Eagles in rebounding and was one of the best shot blockers in St. Louis.

“She’s a remarkable athlete,” said Jones. “I know track and field is her sport and we’re happy to have her. She’d be awesome in any sport she decided to dedicate herself to. We didn’t get to see her all summer because of track and field but she’s really improved. Her post moves are getting better, she’s so much quicker and faster.”

Sophia Rivera aims a free throw in the scrimmage with Whitfield. She wears a brace on her left hand.
Sophia Rivera aims a free throw in the scrimmage with Whitfield. She wears a brace on her left hand to support the thumb she broke in a softball game in September 2014. “I could play without it but I don’t want to make it worse than it has to be,” said Rivera, who is right-handed.

Moving into major roles are three sophomores who played both varsity and JV last year: forwards Gabby Gombas and Megan Jones and guard Amanda Ingersoll, the most well conditioned runner on the team.

Sophomore forward Gabby Gombas.
Sophomore forward Gabby Gombas in practice.
Sophomore forward Megan Jones fights Whitfield for position.
Sophomore forward Megan Jones fights Whitfield for position.
Sophomore guard Amanda Ingersoll practices free throws.
Sophomore guard Amanda Ingersoll practices free throws.

The two freshmen are guards Maggie Callihan and Logan Darrow. Jones said Callihan is versatile enough to play guard, forward or center.

Freshman guard Maggie Callihan dribbles against Whitfield.
Freshman guard Maggie Callihan dribbles in the scrimmage with Whitfield. She was a starter in volleyball and will play varsity in basketball as well.
Freshman guard Logan Darrow in practice.
Freshman guard Logan Darrow in practice.

Tougher schedule

Brentwood will have a hard time equaling last year’s 21 wins, especially since Jones made the schedule tougher. He added tournaments at Orchard Farm and Affton and exchanged a couple of weaker teams with stronger ones. He hopes it pays off in the district playoffs.

“Last year in conference we had all those big margins of victory and the girls quit working hard in practice,” he said. “I think that contributed to us not finishing off Whitfield in the district playoffs. We had them on the ropes, up by 9 at halftime, but we didn’t finish.”

Andy Nieters speaks with Marshelle Franklin (44) and Maggie Callihan.
Andy Nieters speaks with Marshelle Franklin (44) and Maggie Callihan.

‘Small but mighty’

Having won six state titles in track, Rivera knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles. She sees the Eagles’ small numbers as a potential strength, an unrelenting reminder to work harder.

“With Nija out there’s obviously going to be a loss from the points scored per game,” she said. “But right now we can hold our own for sure. We’re small but I think we’re mighty.”

Chris Jones reacts to a joke from one of his players in practice.
Chris Jones reacts to a joke from one of his players in practice. “I’ve never had such a group of yappers,” he said. “You can’t shut ’em up.”

Seniors:
Abby Harper, guard, 5-2
Sophia Rivera, center, 6-0

Going for a loose ball in practice are (from left) Abby Harper, Amanda Ingersoll and Marshelle Franklin.
Going for a loose ball in practice are (from left) Abby Harper, Amanda Ingersoll and Marshelle Franklin.

Sophomores:
Marshelle Franklin, guard, 5-6
Gabby Gombas, forward, 5-7
Amanda Ingersoll, guard, 5-4
Megan Jones, forward, 5-7

Marshelle Franklin looks for an open teammate against Whitfield.
Marshelle Franklin looks for an open teammate against Whitfield.
Gabby Gombas
Gabby Gombas works on her free-throw technique.
Megan Jones goes in for a layup while Maggie Callihan fires a pass behind her.
Megan Jones goes in for a layup while Maggie Callihan flips a pass behind her.

Freshmen:
Maggie Callihan: guard, 5-7
Logan Darrow, guard, 5-3

Freshman guard Logan Darrow.
Freshman guard Logan Darrow reacts to a comment by Chris Jones.

Upcoming
The Eagles will open the season at 8 p.m. Nov. 30 against Timberland in the Orchard Farm Tournament. They’ll then play Dec. 2 — at 8 p.m. if they beat Timberland and at 6:30 p.m. if they lose. The teams in the tournament, from the No. 1 to the No. 8 seed, are Duchesne, Lutheran North, Brentwood, Fort Zumwalt North, Francis Howell North, Timberland, Orchard Farm and Granite City.

Showing coach Chris Jones their new ear-covering look are (from left) Abby Harper, Maggie Callihan and Amanda Ingersoll.
Showing Coach Jones their new look are (from left) Abby Harper, Maggie Callihan and Amanda Ingersoll.

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