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Girls Basketball: Seniors work younger Panthers into the mix

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Brianne Comden and Patrice Hounshell recall not having much fun when they were freshmen on the Massaponax varsity girls basketball team.

Hounshell said the upperclassmen ignored them. She and Comden felt isolated and communicated only with each other.

“They didn’t like me and Breezy,” Hounshell said. “They didn’t want us. They didn’t hang around us. We were the only two that talked to us.”

Comden and Hounshell are now seniors. And when Massaponax brought in five freshmen to help contribute this year, they knew they didn’t want them to endure what they went through.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be rude to them like they were to me,” Hounshell said. “So I’ve tried to treat them with a little more respect. I think when you treat them with respect, they mature faster.”

The formula has worked.

The Panthers (11–5, 8–2 Commonwealth District) are headed toward their first winning season since 2004–05. They sit in second place in the Commonwealth behind Colonial Forge and they host Mountain View Friday in a district clash.

Second-year head coach Adam Brown admits he’s surprised at how well a team with five freshmen, two sophomores and two seniors has performed.

“For eighth-grade girls to come in and actually make it to the varsity level and then to compete at that level, that’s a big jump,” Brown said. “So we didn’t know what to expect. We were just hoping they would be competitors and not be overwhelmed and scared by the difference in talent. They’ve stepped up quite well.”

Comden, a 6-foot post player, leads the Panthers with 18.8 points per game. Hounshell is the steady point guard who provides senior leadership.

But as many as three freshmen will start on a given night.

Comden said all five (Kayla Bowler, Kayla Chumley, Victoria Washington, Alexis Willis and Cierra Wormley) have had bright moments this year. She was especially pleased when Washington scored 21 points in a recent win over Stafford.

“I feel that even though we have five freshmen that have never played on varsity level, they play more as a team than we ever did before,” Comden said.

Despite the contributions from the freshmen, Comden and Hounshell are still the leaders.

Brown said his goal when placing five freshmen on varsity was to build a program for the long haul. But Washington said she often wonders what the team will be like next season without the support of their co-captains.

“I feel like it’s going to be hard when they leave because we’ve jelled with them and we look up to them as our leaders,” Washington said. “When they leave we’re going to be like, ‘What are we going to do?’”

The Panthers don’t have to worry about that for a while. For now, they’re enjoying this season.

Comden and Hounshell said practices and games are much more fun these days.

Comden said she’s thrilled there’s no “drama” regarding playing time or other issues. It’s led directly to more success on the court.

Hounshell said it’s more fun because the freshmen “don’t think they know everything.”

“They just listen really well and they basically do whatever we tell them to do, so that helps a lot,” she said. “They know they have room to grow, so they listen more.”

Brown was an assistant coach at North Stafford prior to taking over at Massaponax. He said his impression of the program as an outsider was that “we didn’t think they were organized enough.”

He said the Wolverines didn’t prepare as hard when they were set to face Massaponax because they were the “cellar-dwellers.”

“It was not the coaching staff,” Brown said. “We just thought at the time the athletes that Massaponax had didn’t play well as a group.”

Comden and Hounshell have helped change that. Comden is closing in on 1,000 career points, a feat accomplished only by assistant coach Cassie Smith in school history.

But unlike when Smith departed in ’05, Comden believes the program should be headed toward a positive future.

“We don’t want to get to the possibility of trying to win the championship for one year and then be in the bottom of the ring for six more years because we never developed players,” Brown said. “So to have five freshmen playing this year and competing so well, we’re hoping to build off of that for the next four years and keep the team young and forever growing.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526