SHOOTER: Norwell girls are on another level now than I have ever seen them before
It was time for Norwell step up. That is the moral of today’s story.
Don’t get me wrong, Norwell came into this season with nothing to prove. They won their Sectional and they beat the conference champions twice despite not claiming a Northeast 8 of their own last season. But there is just a part of me that feels like Norwell had to get better; like they had no choice but to be better.
And they sure are better. By leaps, by bounds, by every cliche explanation of growth that you or I could Google.
Shooter got the chance to see Norwell play on Friday night, venturing out to the classiest Castle in Wells County. And from the opening tip, South Adams gained control. They scored the first basket and then the second and jumped out to a six point, early first quarter lead. Man alive, I thought, South Adams is good. Then tides turned.
But I digress. I didn’t take up part of your weekend to talk about the everyday story of a basketball game. Because we knew that South Adams was good and we knew that Norwell was good. What this amphibian didn’t know is that Norwell is superior defensively, offensively and in their depth than they have been in a really long time.
Coach Eric Thornton has pulled no punches about the success of this particular Knights team hinging on freshmen. Three of them, Maiah Shelton, Kaylee Fuelling and Lauren Bales, are going to contribute in a big way. And that is the first hurdle they cleared already this season. Because these girls sure don’t look like freshman who will make the typical freshman mistakes. The transition from middle school basketball to big girl basketball is a monumental one. Anyone who tells you differently is a liar.
It is clear that basketball is ingrained in these girls; anyone who followed Norwell hoops a couple of years back is well aware of the last name Shelton and Shooter just watched the older Fuelling sister play strong for Bellmont earlier in the week.
“We are trying to be the aggressors and you teach out of that,” Thornton said of the freshmen. “We just want them to play with a lot of freedom out there and just be really tough.”
One thing that isn’t a surprise in my often doughy eyes is that Norwell is a fundamental group. They are smart, they run an outstanding press on defense and a picturesque weave offense. Norwell basketball under Thornton has stayed fundamental. It is why they have won seven straight Sectional titles and to the casual observer, they didn’t have a NEED to get better going into this season.
But the only thing casual about Shooter is his use of puns like this one: Norwell is now putting the fun in fundamental. See what I did there?
There was the weave, as crisp as ever with backdoor cuts and wide open lanes to the basket. There was the press, finding every nuance of tight to loose, exposing passing lanes and picking off passes like they were the best defensive backs in the NFL. They did all of this because, while the book of Norwell hoops is the same, the storytelling this year is on warp speed.
“It is something that we thought we could do. We have a lot of grit and we certainly have some kids who have good instincts,” Thornton said Friday night. “I think its hard to do with just any group and say ‘this is how we are going to play.’ I think we have a group that is learning to trust their instincts.”
Tempo, tempo, tempo.
Every. Single. Girl.
To the point that it would be rude for Shooter to single out any player or two more than the others. But to keep up with my News-Sentinel.com prep sports counterpart made of precooked bacon, Shooter has always had to be a little rude.
Because while this isn’t about the game, one game, Logan Rowles and Aubrey Dunnuck gave less than no care when turning their games up and therefore being the basis of everything that I wanted to get off my chest in digital form. Rowles’ point total of 25 is great and all, but the fact is that once she and Dunnuck got the ball, they were off to the races, through contact and battled like warriors very rarely seen in the Northeast 8. These two Norwell veterans set the tempo and everyone else fell into line.
The shots, the defense, the penetration to the basket, the offensive rebounding that provided multiple chances at the basket: it all came from the tempo the Rowles and Dunnuck provide.
“When you don’t have to coach effort, you just appreciate that,” Thornton said. “We’ve had a little bit of time to get our young kids acclimated to what we are doing. When we can go out and get second or third opportunities with our lack of size, that is how we are going to have to be.”
This past week, Shooter watched four of News-Sentinel.com’s top 10 girls prep hoops teams. I watched a Fabulous Fiver and loads of great talent and great coaches and great basketball. But here I sit at the end of that exciting real first week of the season and all I can think about is how Norwell now plays.
Not Bellmont, not Concordia, not South Adams, not boys basketball season right around the corner. Norwell. And only Norwell. They stepped up and they will keep stepping up.
The next step could be something great.
For more prep hoops, follow Shooter on Twitter at Shooter_ns