MHS seniors put turnaround on their shoulders

Emily Rebik didn’t need any more motivation.

The Bobcat senior already knew that things had to be different on the hardwood this season. But hearing it from students inside the halls at Marshalltown High School should help Rebik and the rest of the Bobcats put the past behind them.

It’s time to turn the MHS girl’s basketball program around. And Rebik and fellow seniors Amanda Hughes and Kali Banks will all play key roles in that process.

“When I hear that – because I have heard it – it motivates me,” Rebik said of the criticism surrounding the program. “You want to prove them wrong. Hopefully we can show the community that we can be a good basketball team.”

The turnaround now falls into the hands of first-year coach Stacy O’Hare, who takes over for Tim Johnson. The Bobcats won just four games last season and were on the winning end just 17 times in the last five years.

So the process won’t be easy for O’Hare, who coached the Bobcat freshmen last season. The 1992 Marshalltown graduate also spent 13 seasons in the BCLUW program.

“We need to have enthusiasm and a positive attitude and just know that this is a new year,” O’Hare said. “Basketball hasn’t been a sport that people are concerned about. We need to change that, and the kids need to have a mindset that they can turn things around.”

O’Hare’s three seniors will play a significant role in transitioning the team into a new era.

Hughes is the leading returning scorer at six points per game. She also averaged three rebounds per tilt and was second on the team in assists.

O’Hare expects her senior point guard to be improved this year. Hughes, along with her sister Sam and freshman Kyra Hungerford, played AAU basketball this summer for the All-Iowa Attack.

“She has been playing a lot of basketball in the offseason,” said O’Hare. “She is improved. She has a year under her playing the point guard. And she will have to step into that role again this year.”

Hughes said she hopes to be more aggressive this year with an improved jump shot and a lot more confidence.

“I feel like I know how to take care of the ball better than I did last year. I know what I am doing now,” said Hughes. “Playing with some great players this summer has made me better. They push you and make you step up your game.”

The biggest issue for the Bobcats during last year’s 4-18 campaign was turnovers. MHS averaged nearly 21 miscues per game and that hindered the Bobcats’ scoring average, which was 34.6 per contest.

O’Hare has made sure protecting the basketball has been a focal point this preseason. She wants to average more than 40 points per game offensively.

“We spend half of our practices just on fundamentals,” O’Hare said. “It’s not going to matter what kind of offense we run, if you can’t pass, shoot and dribble.

“We want to average around 40 points – that’s a huge expectation. We were in the 20s several times last year. To be competitive, we have got to be scoring in the 40s.”

Being competitive is another priority. The Bobcats were outscored by 428 points last season, which averages out to about 20 points per game.

O’Hare though hopes her squad can shrink that number by getting better every time they take the floor.

But being competitve against a stout Central Iowa Metropolitan Conference won’t always be easy. Dowling Catholic and Mason City are talking state championship, while Waukee, Des Moines East and defending Class 5A champion Southeast Polk have consistently been in the state tournament in recent years. Ames also returns a lot of talent from its 16-7 campaign and West Des Moines Valley lost just one senior from its 14-8 season.

“There is always that challenge of getting the kids to buy into what you want regardless of how they did last year,” O’Hare said. “The league is tough, and it always will be. Our whole goal is that when we play these teams that we are competitive. We don’t want to think that just because it’s Dowling or SE Polk or whoever that we can’t compete with them.”

Helping out the seniors this year will be a handful of Bobcats who gained valuable experience last year, including juniors Sam Hughes and Rachel Blagg as well as sophomore Ellyn Boland. Hungerford is expected to play right away as a freshman and sophomore Tabby Steffensen also is expected to play significant minutes.

Sam Hughes averaged 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game a year ago, while leading the team in blocks. She also was third on the team in assists. Blagg averaged 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

Amanda Hughes, Sam Hughes, Rebik, Banks, Blagg and Boland all played in at least 18 games last year. Lost to graduation were Eisha Oden, Lauren Mazour and Taylor Wagner. Oden and Mazour combined to average about half the Bobcats’ scoring production last year and Oden also led the team in rebounds and steals and was second in blocks.

“I am hoping they carry the load in those first couple of games,” said O’Hare of her key returners. “They have been there and dealt with the nerves. Those are the kids that are leading and pushing everyone in practice.

“We have about 8-10 players that are very similar but each one of them is going to contribute in a different way. I can stick any one of them out there, and it won’t make a difference.”

Banks and Rebik both played sparingly as juniors. Their roles will likely be drastically different this season.

“I think it will be a good year. I like where things are headed,” said Banks. “Everyone seems more confident and more willing to work. We are working harder and working more together in drills. There is a lot of people that want to get better.”

The Bobcats will play in the annual CIML Jamboree on Saturday at West Des Moines Valley. MHS will take on Ankeny High School at 1:05 p.m. The regular season opener will be played at Des Moines North at 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday. The Polar Bears were 0-20 last year and averaged just 14 points per game.

“I think it will be good since we have a whole new system and a brand new coaching staff,” O’Hare said of the opener. “Starting with that team will be good because we want to start the season on a high note.

“We need to improve every time we step on the court. We don’t want teams to be able to look past us. We want them to know that Marshalltown will be competitive.”