Lady Hounds resurgence in full swing

Fort Madison's Malarie Ross drives the lane in a game earlier this year against Mt. Pleasant. The Panthers handed the Hounds their only loss of the year, but Fort Madison has turned the corner in the girls program and Ross is leading the way with 24 points per game. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

Sargent has program turned 180 degrees since taking over in 2019

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – Tony Sargent’s Lady Hound are flying under the radar in a big way.

A quick glance in the gym on a Friday night when the Fort Madison girls basketball team is in action, and there is different feel to these Bloodhounds..

Fort Madison is just one point from being undefeated on the year, a 62-61 setback at home in the second game of the year Dec. 4 against Mt. Pleasant in overtime.

Since that time the Hounds are 4-0 after starting the year with a win at Davis County.

Head Coach Sargent said he wants that game back.

“I wish we could have that back,” he said. “Mt. Pleasant always seems to give us fits – I don’t know why. But without having summer ball and being shut down for two weeks, we weren’t even close to being in shape.”

But the look and feel of this year’s squad shows a change. A change that may last for many years.

Sargent is in just his second year leading the Fort Madison girls, after replacing Todd McGhghy in 2019. He inherited a team that went 3-19 and 5-19 the previous two years.

Sargent matched that combined win total in his first year when the Hounds went 8-14.

That year freshman Camille Kruse, who was named 1st team All Conference in the Southeast averaged just under 12 points a game and was the only real threat off the dribble.

That dynamic has changed in a big way.

Transplant Malarie Ross, who’s family bought a home in Iowa prior to the season, was given a waiver of the state’s 90-day transfer rules because of the change of residency. Last season she played at West Hancock in Illinois, and as freshman she played for Sargent at Central Lee.

Freshman Aija Jenkins is another young player getting some minutes in Head Coach Tony Sargent’s surging Lady Hounds basketball team. The club is 5-1 on the year and looking like the favorite in the Southeast Conference this season. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

Her impact was felt immediately.

Ross is averaging 24 points per game and six assists on the young season, but has also found a new best friend in Kruse.

“I’m not used to having somebody on the team that wants to practice all the time. After that – we kind of developed that bond and started hanging out after practice. Now she’s my best friend” Ross said.

The junior said she didn’t expect to be playing for a Fort Madison squad she knew to be rebuilding. She knew because Sargent is her grandfather by marriage.

“I had actually come over and watched them play a couple times… not expecting to come over – until COVID happened,” Ross said.

“I knew it was a rebuilding program, but I knew this year was special because they had a lot of people coming up.”

She said the girls are just now starting to get comfortable with each other and gaining confidence.

“I thought that we could beat everybody in the conference hands down,” Ross said. “The beginning was a rough start, but we’re starting to ease it out a little bit.”

The rough start was the cancellation of all summer ball and the two-week shutdown at the start of the year due to high COVID infections in the district.

Ross averaged 17.5 points per game for West Hancock last year. She said Fort Madison works better as a team, which has enabled her get more open looks.

Part of that is due to the attention Kruse is getting after her solid first season.

Now Kruse is playing the number two position instead of handling the ball as she did all last year. That adjustment is still sorting itself out as she’s at about eight points per game.

Kruse said she’s starting to settle in to her new role.

Malarie Ross splits some defenders are her way the hoop in earlier action this year. Ross and Kruse are becoming a powerful tandem on this year’s Bloodhound squad. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

“I’ve been more of an off-guard this year instead of a point guard and I’ve still gotten good looks,” Kruse said. “It’s been a small adjustment, but one that’s getting easier each game.”

She said the off-court relationship is paying dividends on the court now.

“She’s my best friend. Our chemistry is amazing on the court. She’ll just give me a look and I’ll know exactly what she wants me to do,” Kruse said.

Senior post Brandy Walker, who’s averaging right at eight points and eight boards per game said the flow of the game is much easier this year.

“We’ve been working a lot more at looking into the post. Last year we’d ignore and just pass along the 3-point line, and then look for a place to drive. This year we’re working harder to try and set that post play up.”

She said the addition of Ross has been huge, but she said the addition of Delanee Seay and Irelynd Sargent have also allowed the team to do different things than past years.

“Last year we had three posts, but this year we are running a shorter team for sure, Walker said.

“We’re a lot more motivated this year to win. We have some new faces we didn’t have last year with Malarie, Irelynd and Delanee.”

Tony Sargent said Walker is a good example of the girls gaining confidence. He said Walker is close to signing to play college basketball at John Wood, a feat she didn’t think possible last year.

“I told her she could get a college scholarship to play basketball. She just had to work and believe, and now she’s going to sign with them. It’s an example of the confidence the girls are gaining,” he said.

Sargent downplays his role in the x’s and o’s of the game and instead said he focuses on building confidence in the girls.

“I’m not a good basketball coach and I don’t proclaim to be a good basketball coach. I just try to teach the girls to have confidence in themselves,” he said. “The talent is here.”

Senior guard Nadia Boeding, who runs as part of the smaller regular lineup for Sargent, said she thinks the biggest difference is the consistency at coach.

“This year we have a coach who stayed and in the past I’ve had a new coach every year until now,” Boeding said. “Now our team gets along super well, compared to past years, and we bond a lot and that helps on the court.”

Boeding is shooting 53% from the floor, but is only scoring 4.5 points per game. She said she’s fine with that as she sees her role as more a facilitator and a defensive specialist.

“I see my role on the defensive side and trying to get the other girls the ball. Just one more pass – I’m the girl that works that extra pass. Their scoring may be more than mine, but that’s okay because we’re winning,” Boeding said.

She agreed the deeper bench is adding to the team’s success.

“Last year we had just 10 players and some of them were young. This year, too, we have a lot of freshman, but they have so much talent and bring so much to the team.”

Sargent said the 1-2 outside punch of Ross and Kruse is still a work-in-progress. He said the two would be in the gym all day if they could.

“They’ve got a bond between them. They play well together and get along well. The rest of the girls see that and they’re all playing now to win.”

That hasn’t been the case in the past, he said.

“When I first came her and told them we had a chance of having something good here, they all thought, ‘we’ve heard that before and we keep losing, losing, losing.’ Now, I think maybe the kids are maybe starting to believe a little bit,” he said.

“They don’t care if Brandy gets 20 and Camille gets two. They don’t have that mentality. They just want to win.”

Fort Madison will host Washington in a Southeast Conference match on Tuesday night before the holiday break. They get their rematch with Mt Pleasant on the road when they return to action on Jan. 8.

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