Finding quick chemistry will be key for the Nodaway Valley Thunder as West Nodaway and Nodaway-Holt join forces for the new season.
It is not just the two schools who need to get used to playing together, but it is also the different age groups within the team as the core group of four seniors is joined by a very talented freshman class.
One of the more obvious points where the team will be getting used to playing together is in the post where Kloe Jenkins, Riley Linville and Reagan Hagey return as starters from their teams the last several years, but reinforcements are coming as well in the form of freshman Ava Graham.
“It has been a little bit different,” Graham said. “Because there is the difference between middle-school basketball and high-school basketball. There is a real difference there, because I’ve had to learn that I have to move around more because I am not the tallest anymore. One of, but not the tallest anymore.”
Graham has been grateful to the upperclassmen for helping make her transition to high school go smooth in the preseason.
“Kloe definitely has helped me a lot,” Graham said. “She has helped me a lot with posting up against quicker girls like her, because me being a clonky, big-footed 6-foot girl, it is harder to play around quicker girls.”
Jenkins is excited for the extra depth, a luxury she and her teammates haven’t had the last few seasons at Nodaway-Holt.
“It is also nice to have more than just two posts, that way we can get a breather,” Jenkins said. “It gives us upperclassmen a chance to teach our underclassmen what to expect when it becomes time for game time.”
Hagey and Linville were the starting duo on the post for West Nodaway.
While the frontcourt is stacked with seniors, Piper Hunt is the senior leader of the backcourt after persevering though an injury-plagued season last year for West Nodaway. She played with a large brace on her hand much of last year after breaking a bone.
“I just hope to have a winning season,” Hunt said. “The past few years, three different coaches, it has been pretty rough. I just want to come out on top more this year.”
Back to healthy again, Hunt is one of the more dangerous returning scorers in the area.
“We do have a lot of guards, so it is going to be a lot of up-pace plays and constantly running the ball, which is what teams don’t expect from us,” Hunt said. “I think that is really going shock most teams.”
Sophomore Sydney Marriott is another returning starter from West Nodaway and made a big impact as a freshman last season with her hustle and play-making ability.
The freshman class will also help the backcourt with Reganne Fast, Paidyn Linville and Savanna Marriott all looking to factor into the rotation.
“They are so good,” Hunt said. “The freshman coming up, I was so amazed to see them come into practice and give it their all. They aren’t scared to do anything.”
One factor which should help the freshmen class is that Mitch Barnes is taking over as head coach after serving as the West Nodaway junior high coach in previous years.
“It is really great,” Graham said. “Not only does he do good things to help us better ourselves, but even when we are at our best, he wants more out of us. He really pushes us so we can be the best that we possibly can be.”
Barnes is excited about the collection of talent he gets to build this team with.
“We will probably press people and try to run the floor on offense,” Barnes said. “And then see if we can pound the ball inside to the big girls and try to play inside-out.”
The Thunder opened the season against King City on Tuesday.
Nodaway Valley is the fourth seed in next week’s PVI Tournament and plays against St. Joseph Christian on Monday at 4:30 p.m., in Burlington Junction. In the second round, they will face either DeKalb or Northeast Nodaway.
“As a team, I hope to have a winning record,” Jenkins said. “Senior year, I hope to go out with maybe a trophy or two.”