By Brad Morris
AMANDA — A young roster came of age a season ago for Amanda-Clearcreek, which went from winning three games in 2021 to prevailing in 15 games in 2022 and earning a spot in a district tournament.
Third-year coach Tim Leist wants to see the Aces (15-9, 8-6) take the next step in 2023, going from competing to contending for championships.
“Our girls learned to win last year and also what it would take to get to the next level and compete with the top teams in our league and district,” he said. “Our goal this season is to go from competing to contending for a league championship and a district championship.
“We feel like these girls are ready to take that next step.”
The Aces return four starters, led by 5-10 senior wing Emily Buckley, who earned first-team honors in both the Mid-State League Buckeye Division and Central District last season for averaging 11.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Amanda-Clearcreek also returns a pair of 5-10 junior forwards in Grace Davis (9.6 points and 5.6 rebounds) and Rachel Weaver (4.8 rebounds). Hailey Sowers (7.3 points), a 5-6 junior guard, gives the Aces some experience in the back court.
Davis captured second-team honors in both the league and district last season, while Sowers was an honorable mention pick.
“Our experience is going to play a huge role this season, because Emily and Grace are three-year starters and Rachel and Hailey are two-year starters,” Leist said. “With our returning starters, I think we are going to be athletic and can guard people and play great defense, along with being a strong rebounding team.
“Those were some things that led to our turnaround last season. When we talk about taking that next step, we need to do a better job of taking care of basketball and shooting a better percentage as a team. In our (40-36) district semifinal loss to Pleasant last season, we turned over the ball 10 more times than they did and that allowed the game to get away from us. If we cut that turnover number in half, then we would have been playing for a district championship last year.”
Leist also identified building depth as another key to success this season. The Aces will turn to 5-6 freshman guard Taylor Evans, 5-6 senior forward Megan Tooill, 5-5 junior guard Addy Pugh and 5-6 sophomore guard Allie Leist to fill out the rest of the lineup and provide valuable minutes coming off the bench.
“Another key to taking the next step is developing more depth, because our league is pretty stacked when you talk about Fairfield Union, Bloom-Carroll, Circleville, Teays Valley and Liberty Union and some of those teams have the capability of wearing you down if you don’t have numbers,” Leist said. “Taylor has a very high basketball IQ and she has worked really hard to make an impact as a freshman. She is going to help us handle the basketball and can do some other things on the court.
“Megan and Addy are both solid role players who are going to contribute and give us a spark and then Allie will give us some additional depth at guard and see some minutes.”
Leist was an assistant coach for Cary James when the Aces won back-to-back district championships in 2018 and 2019. He took note of some of the intangibles that led those teams to have success and wants to replicate that with the Aces this season, which opens with a non-league game on Nov. 19 at Westfall that will be a 6 p.m. varsity-only tip.
“Great teams are close off the court, so we have some activities off the court that help bring the girls together and allows us to grow closer as a team,” he said. “We also redid the locker room during the offseason to make it more player-friendly.
“Championship teams also typically have good leadership. Emily has started since her sophomore year and is one of our leaders and our other returning starters are leading more and will continue and grow there.”
No. Player Gr. Ht. Pos.
5 Emily Buckley 12 5-10 G/F
11 Grace Davis 11 5-10 F
13 Rachel Weaver 11 5-10 F
15 Allie Leist 10 5-6 G
20 Megan Tooill 12 5-6 F
22 Hailey Sowers 11 5-6 G
23 Taylor Evans 9 5-6 G
30 Addy Pugh 10 5-5 G
Coach: Tim Leist
Assistant coaches: Donna Peters, Mike Schultz, Deron Neff
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