Girls’ Basketball team set its sights on winning it all

(Photo: Dani Schaaf)

(Photo: Dani Schaaf)

Few high school teams are made up of girls who are best friends on and off the court. And even fewer have the combination of a great group of friends and a great group of players. But the Fairmont Girls’ Varsity Basketball team has it all going for them.

The Lady Firebirds’ 2011-12 season will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 25 at the Trent Arena as they take on Fairfield. This talented and determined group of athletes hopes to bring home the state championship trophy that evaded them by 13 points last year, when they made their second consecutive trip to the Final Four. The team lost only one player to graduation, so they think they’re in a pretty good position to achieve their goal.

“We have a good feeling about this year’s season. We’re predicting that we get to the same spot as we did last year, only with a different outcome in the State Championship game,” said junior guard Chelsea Welch.

This year the team that finished 26-2 last year has one major obstacle to face: sophomore center Makayla Waterman’s torn ACL that has kept her out of the game since June. The recovery process takes about six months, leaving her to be released in December. But being released medically won’t necessarily mean Waterman will take the court that soon.

“I’m not sure if my parents are going to let me play. My team is kind of banking on my parents letting me play,” said Waterman, who is ranked 17th in the nation in her class in the ESPN 2014 HoopGurlz Recruiting Ranking.

Despite the injury, Head Coach Tim Cogan thinks the team will not fall short of expectations. “I think once we put it all together, we will be in good shape,” he said.

Playing out-of-state teams

The competition the girls will face this season will be quite different from last year. The team is scheduled to play numerous teams from out of state, a move the girls think is much needed. The team will face these teams at a tournament in Pickerington, Ohio, where the bracket is not yet finished.

“It’s really important because it’s a lot better competition outside of Ohio, so if we practice with harder teams, it just makes us better,” said sophomore forward Kathryn Westbeld, who’s ranked 19th in the nation by the ESPN HoopGurlz Ranking.

Cogan said they plan to play in some traveling tournaments this year and that the competition is going to be more difficult.

The team is looking forward to the new season despite the greater challenges. They lost their only senior, Kelly Hart, last year, so now the team will consist of all younger but more seasoned players.

Team members feel that this year will be better because of the experience they’ve had. “We’ve played with each other for so long. And since we’ve already been there once, I think it will be better because we all know how it feels,” said junior forward Alona Skipper.

Waterman said they’re also excited for the new uniforms this year. The team has two uniforms, a navy and a white, which are Jordan brand and have an argyle pattern down the side.

Friendship and dedication on and off the court

One thing that helps this team be so successful is that the girls are all very good friends. They have a bond outside of all the basketball madness that keeps them working together on the court.

“It does help being so close because if someone makes a mistake, sometimes other teams will get upset. But we don’t really get mad,” said Skipper. Most of the girls have been playing AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball together since they were in third and fourth grades.

“It helps to know each other so well because we know how each other plays,” said Westbeld.

The girls have already laid the groundwork to prepare for the main goal of bringing home the State Championship trophy this year. They’ve been working since April by lifting and playing in tournaments with their club teams. The liftings continued through summer, leaving only the month of July off. After that, they started right back up with open gym in August.

But bringing home the trophy isn’t the only goal of the Lady Firebirds’ Basketball team. “Our goal is to beat Twinsburg and Canton McKinley. Those teams were ranked higher than us last year,” said Waterman.

The team also plans to prove the local critics wrong. “Every year there’s this website called Yappi ( that always predicts us to lose, so we always want to prove them wrong,” said Welch.

The plan to achieve these goals consists of tough practicing. The practices include running and a lot of learning. Welch describes a practice as a “classroom on the court.” Every day the team will come in during lunch and watch the other teams’ films. A typical week of practice in the gym starts out with drills and then later in the week, the team does more scrimmaging.

“If it’s a big game, we don’t do much running. We do more watching film,” said Waterman.

The girls have a great feeling for the upcoming basketball season. The Lady Firebirds Basketball team has all the advantages of strong friendships, dominant basketball skills, determination beyond expectations, and great coaching to get the ultimate goal of an OHSAA Championship win.

Check out these other stories on the Lady Firebirds:

4/23/2011: Firebirds make history during winter sports season

4/15/2011: Firebird girls head to State basketball tournament again

4/9/2011: Firebirds continue to romp in girls’ basketball tournament