For six years Wyoming East has been in the title mix.
Last year the Lady Warriors showed why, winning the Class AA championship despite playing three of their 13 games in the state tournament. Now comes the hard part – defending that title with a bullseye on their back.
“Overall they’re doing really well with it,” East head coach Angie Boninsegna said of being the hunted. “I think they just go out and play hard. I think overall we’re handling it well. Some of the kids have different roles they have to play this year. Some of them came off the bench and now they’ll be starting. I think overall we’re doing well but there’s a lot of tough competition in our region and section to even get back to Charleston. It’s a tough section so we just hope to play hard and make it back.”
Gone from that championship team is three-time all-state point guard Skylar Davidson, who earned first-team captain status following a stellar state tournament showing. The task now for East coach Angie Boninsegna is filling the shoes of Davidson as well as those of another graduate in Sarah Saunders.
Making matters worse is the fact second-team all-stater Daisha Summers transferred to Greenbrier East and the Lady Warriors third all-stater, first-team guard Abby Russell, tore her ACL the day after the team’s win over Parkersburg Catholic in the title game back in May.
For those keeping count that’s four starters Boninsegna needs to replace with the hope Russell can come back and play in January.
“We’ve just gotta play to our strengths,” Boninsegna said. “You’re not going replacer Skylar Davidson. It’s just not going to happen. We’ve been blessed to have two of those type of point guards around, but Sarah Saunders did a lot for us people don’t look at. Abby scored for us but we’re really going to miss her on-ball defense more so than anything. They have to go in relaxed though. They can’t look at it like we’ve got a target on our back. We’ve just got to continue to play hard and get better each game.”
While Boninsegna doesn’t want her team to feel the pressure of defending the title, their opponents will look to apply as much as possible. When you’re the defending champion, you get everybody’s best shot and despite the losses from last year’s team, at least four players that played heavy minutes will be back.
Kayley Bane, Colleen Lookabill, Hannah Blankenship and Maddie Clark highlight the returning players with Blankenship, the team’s only senior, being the lone returning starter.
“I think the kids in the offseason worked really hard,” Boninsegna said. “They know that Hannah’s (Blankenship) been there and she’s had the target on her back. So she’s been there and been a leader to the younger kids. Maddie Clark’s just a sophomore but it feels like she’s played forever and she played great for us last year as a freshman. The key is to learn throughout the year because it’s a big jump from middle school ball to high school ball. I think we’ll be okay.”
In addition to those four, the Lady Warriors will rely on freshmen Cadence Blackburn and Alivia Monroe. Blackburn will likely be the team’s starting point guard while Monroe will rotate in as a floor-stretching center
“They’re doing really well but physicality is a big difference,” Boninsegna said. “When you’re playing as a freshman, a lot of times you’re playing seniors and that can be a big thing. The atmosphere is different too. We’ve got a lot of different defenses we run and personnel is different. Cadence is coming in and she’s doing a wonderful job for us offensively. She’s getting better for us defensively and Monroe’s the same way. We’ve got Gabby Cameron who’s another freshman that will play some and Charleigh Price has improved since last year. Laken’s (Toler) gotten stronger since last year and Emma (Blankenship) has gotten better. They all really worked hard in the offseason, so our rotation might change from game to game.”
Having a new starter at point guard puts Boninsegna in a spot she hasn’t been in since 2014.
From 2015-18 Boninsegna had Gabby Lupardus, a three-time first-team, all-stater and the 2018 POTY winner, to run the show on court. From there Davidson took over until her graduation last season. A former point guard herself, the veteran Boninsegna realizes she’ll need to be more hands on.
“We’ll go back to more calls,” Boninsegna said. “With (Lupardus and Davidson) they had a little more experience and we could give them more flexibility. I’d ask them what they wanted to do and now I’ll go back to what they feel more comfortable with. It’s special when you have a point guard where you don’t have to call everything. Cadence will play it and Maddie will probably play it some too. It just depends on what we’re seeing. If we get more man looks we might put Maddie there. But predominately it’ll be those two. If Abby comes back she’ll probably see some time there, but she’s working hard to get back. We’ve had so many kids tear their ACLs that we want her to get healthy first.”
Despite the youth, departures and injuries, the goal remains same – win a state championship.
“That’s the goal and the ultimate goal – to play on the last Saturday of the season,” Boninsegna said. “Every team in the state wants to do that. This year we’re a little bit younger and we want to improve every game but our goal is to still get to Charleston. We want to try and do business when we get there but there are some tough double-A teams in our state. It looks like we might get a year where we get to play a full season and that’s fortunate. But our goal is to play on the Saturday, we just have to work hard each and every day to get there.”
Email: tylerjackson@lootpress and follow on Twitter @tjack94