Most starters return from 21-4 season
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
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.
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.”
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.
At the other guard position is senior Abby Harper, who made all-conference.
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.”
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.
The two freshmen are guards Maggie Callihan and Logan Darrow. Jones said Callihan is versatile enough to play guard, forward or center.
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.”
‘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.”
Abby Harper, guard, 5-2
Sophia Rivera, center, 6-0
Marshelle Franklin, guard, 5-6
Gabby Gombas, forward, 5-7
Amanda Ingersoll, guard, 5-4
Megan Jones, forward, 5-7
Maggie Callihan: guard, 5-7
Logan Darrow, guard, 5-3
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.