Returning starters offer strength and leadership for IR girls’ hoops
With the Southern Henlopen Division title clinched for the past two years and the majority of the roster returning to the hardwood this season, the Indian River High School girls’ varsity basketball team is poised to continue their success with the approaching schedule. Head coach John Frye is turning to a solid core of seasoned athletes to help the Lady Indians get things going.
“We have some really strong girls coming back,” noted Frye at a practice last week, “and I’m really looking for them to take on leadership roles for the younger girls stepping in.”
This past spring saw the graduation of 6-foot forward Abby Miller, but plenty of familiar faces are returning to the court to help fill the gap. Point guard Destiny Blake, now a four-year varsity athlete in her senior year, has led the team as a captain, and is on pace to reach 1,000 career points and 500 career assists this season. Last year, Blake earned First Team Henlopen All-Conference and an All-State honorable mention.
“Destiny is a tremendous athlete,” said Frye. “The talent is there, and the leadership is there. We’re want to control the mood at practice right from the start of the season and set examples for the younger players. Leadership is a valuable quality to have.”
Blake will be flanked by sisters Keeonya and Keiosha Shelton, who last season earned First-Team Henlopen All-Conference and an All-Conference honorable mention, respectively. Chanel Handy, Kitty Cole and Michelle Baine return to the team in their senior years, while junior guard Shanekqua Holden will also contribute to this year’s roster.
“We’re focusing on doing things the right way,” said Frye. “It’s about attention to details. We’re going to have to handle the pressure. We gave up too many unforced errors last year, and we need to do a better job with that.”
In addition to several returning players, the Lady Indians will have some athletes stepping up after making their mark as freshmen on last year’s team. Alexandra Myers and Francesca Lanuza both aim to develop experience acquired from last season, while the team’s recent success over the past several years has sparked interest among this year’s incoming freshmen.
“We’re definitely adding some depth to the team,” said Frye, whose primary struggle since stepping in as head coach four years ago has been numbers on the bench. “We’ve got 11 girls on the varsity team, and even more on the JV. The numbers are higher now than they have been in the three previous years. We’re counting on minutes from the experienced girls coming back, but we also want to be able to rest these athletes, if needed.”
“Communication is key this year,” said Blake. “The younger girls are listening to the returning players, and everyone is on the same page.”
To help with the team’s conditioning, Frye will look to new assistant coach and former Indian River athlete Ashley Zurowski – now also known as “Coach Z.”
“We’re working really hard on running the court and pushing the ball at both ends,” said Frye. “That’s always been one of our strengths, and Coach Z really comes into play with that. She’s helping us make sure we can use our girls all game.”
Zurowski, who studied physical therapy at Coastal Carolina University, hopes to bring the same drive and mentality that she supplied this past fall as assistant varsity volleyball coach at Indian River.
“We run the girls, but they’re all working really hard,” said Zurowski. “They are encouraging each other at practice, cheering each other on. Their attitude is great and, hopefully, they’ll carry that into the season.”
The Lady Indians will look to start off strong once the season gets rolling in early December. Last year, on their way to capturing a 15-5 record, they opened up the schedule with a 7-0 start.
“We have a tough schedule this year,” admitted Frye, whose team was tripped up by the likes of Dover, Woodbridge and Cape Henlopen last season, “but we want to improve as the year goes on. We need to play a pressure game early in the season. It takes a lot of preparation and getting wins on the road early. We’ve got a strong, veteran core, and these girls play hard, anywhere. Once we can get some wins under our belt, we can get that confidence rolling and push through the season.”
The Lady Indians got some practice this past week, facing Caesar Rodney in a scrimmage, and will continue their preseason preparation with teams including James Bennett and Parkside as the regular season approaches.