BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Coming off a year where the Fort Madison girls varsity basketball squad won just one game, first year Head Coach Todd McGhghy said it’s back to the basics with everyone.
The girls got their first look at the team this year Friday with a well-fought 51-44 loss to Centerville, in a game where the Hounds held a 23-20 lead with some tenacious full-court defense.
McGhghy said defense will be the focus of the Hounds this year but he’s not set on any one scheme and will have to play different defenses depending on what the other team is doing offensively.
A pattern of having a lopsided quarter, which was what has plagued Fort Madison heavily the past two years, reared its head again out of the break. Centerville Sophomore Claire Mathews heated up and led the Redettes to a 16-4 third quarter advantage wiping out the Hounds lead.
Mathews went for 25 points on the night including four 3-pointers in a 15-point second half.
The Lady Hounds outscored Centerville 17-15 in the final quarter but couldn’t overcome the third quarter let down. FMHS also jumped out to a 14-9 first quarter lead with Maddie Rashid firing in nine points in the first half and 14 for the game to lead FMHS.
On Saturday night, the girls ran into a pressure-heavy West Burlington team in the Hall of Pride scrimmage. The game was unofficial as it didn’t count on either teams’ record.
Fort Madison hung around with the Lady Falcons in the first half trailing 28-17 at the end of the first two periods.
West Burlington applied heavy pressure throughout the game in full and half-court trap zones causing some confusion for the Lady Hounds.
The Lady Falcons sophomore Annaka Harris led all scorers with 22 points. Senior Lexy Davis and another sophomore, Sydney Marlow, each were in double figures for West Burlington with 16 and 14 points each.
Rashid led the Hounds again with nine points. Senior Jassmine Bass had seven points for Fort Madison.
Junior point guard Anna Kester is one of the few returning players from last year’s squad. Kester, who was held scoreless against West Burlington, but had seven against Centerville in the opener, said the team is playing better than last year’s 1-21 season.
“We really developed a better defense this year and we’ve been playing better as a team. Overall, our offense is better. I think we’re just hoping to play even ball this year, honestly,” Kester said.
Senior Braxtyn McGhghy said the Hounds are focusing on defense, but there’s a more even approach to the offense and who’ll step up to the lead on the offensive end.
“This year we’re focusing more on defense and were sprinting to the ball and focusing on getting there faster,” she said. “Actually, I think we’ve all worked pretty hard on ball handling this summer. It’s good that we have a lot of good athletic girls. We all can play that no. 1 spot or no 2 spot. It’s not just one set person. If someone needs to fill in we can fill in.”
McGhghy makes no bones about defense being the key to turning the program around.
“I am a defensive coach and we focus on defense a lot… lot…lot. We focus on getting better at it every day. We run break down drill after drill after drill. With our personnel that’s what we have to do. If our personnel dictated a 2-3 zone that’s what we would do. I’m not married to a scheme or system. We just try to look at what we have and what we do well,” he said.
Dallas Hodges, a graduate of the Cedar Rapids Washington and Wayne State basketball programs, and Carrie Burken will be on the sidelines this year with McGhghy. He said those two bring a different approach to the game.
“Dallas and Carrie bring a great balance to me. But not from a rescue or enabling standpoint, they are both an asset to me with the kids. When they think I’m really, really ticked at them, there is someone they can go to.”
Striking a balance between the structure of the game and allowing skills to shine is at the forefront of McGhghy’s approach to the season. With several new faces, including some seniors like Josie Pumphrey, Dezire Kline, and Bass, will bring some experienced athletes to the program, although raw on basketball skills. Junior volleyball standout Jillian Wiseman is also suited up this year.
“I’m guessing that’s probably everybody’s challenge. How much structure vs. freedom. I was telling the girls the other day when I coached with Dave Hall in Keokuk and we got second and third in the state back-to-back years, we literally had two or three offensive sets, everything else was just motion and we let them play,” McGhghy said. “That’s the challenge in my opinion. As coach if they find that secret and balance quick you’ll have that success.”
Offensively he said the girls have shown improvement in those skill sets over the summer, but he isn’t sure how that will translate into productivity on the court.
He pointed to Kester’s experience and Rashid’s ability to score.
“Anna has experience offensively in terms of handling the point guard and bringing the ball up the floor. There’s a good three to four people who I wouldn’t mind if they had to do it. With her and Rashid and Boeding, there’s quite a few that can bring the ball up the floor.”
Kester and Rashid each averaged under five points per outing last year, but combined for more than 50 assists on the year. Sarah Bernhardt averaged just under six points and four rebounds per contest last year.
He said Keokuk and Mt. Pleasant will be strong in the conference this year and Fairfield is always athletic and reload year after year, despite losing some productive seniors to graduation last year.