KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Spoofhound girls basketball team has the inevitable task of replacing the best player in school history next season, but the team’s top two returning scorers are putting in the work this offseason to continue their improvement.
Upcoming juniors Anastyn Pettlon and Rylee Vierthaler have played starting roles for the Kansas Elite Under-17 top team. Pettlon was promoted to the top squad this year, joining her teammate and friend.
“Especially without Serena (Sundell) this year, we have to work hard and get better in the offseason,” Pettlon said.
The team, coached by Michael Novicoff, is off to a 16-5 this spring and summer. They went 3-0 in pool play in this weekend's U.S. Junior Nationals Battle at the Border before losing their finals game to Team Griffin, an Oklahoma-based team co-founded by NBA star and former Oklahoma Sooner Blake Griffin.
Pettlon has stepped into a big role with the team as one of two point guards that Novicoff starts. He has been impressed with her development.
“She has a great attitude and she works so very hard,” Novicoff said. “She is one of our two starting point guards — we have co-point guards. She works her tail off and she is progressing.
“She just keeps getting better and better.”
The 2-year starter for the Spoofhounds will be back in her familiar spot as Maryville’s point guard this winter, but her role in the offense is likely to evolve without Sundell starting next to her in the backcourt. Pettlon is the only Maryville player returning with significant experience bringing the ball up the floor.
“Mostly, I’m just focusing on being able to handle the ball and score whenever my team needs and creating shots like Serena does,” Pettlon said.
Vierthaler is also a 2-year starter in Maryville, and will also see her role change this season without Sundell and Vierthaler’s frontcourt partner Emily Cassavaugh.
“Defensively, you grow playing against really good players because you can learn new things,” Vierthaler said. “Individually, your skill set always grows during the summer.”
Novicoff has seen the same thing that Maryville fans have seen from Vierthaler over the years with her motor and hustle.
“As far as defense and underneath, she is probably our hardest-working big,” Novicoff said. “She will get physical, she has a great 3-point shot and she can actually score from anywhere on the court.
“Her upside, like Anastyn’s, is tremendous.”
The pair of Spoofhounds are two of only three players not from Kansas on the team’s roster. With the long commutes to practice, they appreciate having each other on the team.
“It is really nice because whenever you drive down to Kansas City practices and games, you always have a buddy there to talk to,” Vierthaler said. “It has brought us really close. It kind of helps our game together because we are always playing together.”
Their coach appreciates having the pair together.
“All nine of our kids really like each other,” Novicoff said. “We have a really cohesive unit, which is nice.
“They play for each other and they want each other to be successful. We don’t have any ‘me’ players on our team. It is all about ‘we’ and the team. As a coach, there are a lot of years where you have ‘me’ players, but this year, we have all ‘we’ players so that makes us feel good about it.”
Novicoff’s Kansas Elite U-17 team’s next tournament is the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chicago from July 10 through July 12.
“It really helps us prepare for high-school ball and get better,” Vierthaler said. “Where you get better is the offseason, and for high school, this is the offseason. Coming out here and playing against the best of the best is really fun and it only lets us improve.”