By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Oshene Kelly has plenty of motivation these days.
Kelly, a former standout basketball player at Skyline High School, started the first eight games of the season for Bridgewater College this winter, but has since seen time coming off the bench for the Eagles over the last five games, as Bridgewater coach Jean Willi decided to go with a smaller lineup to accommodate more playing time for guard Molly Shelley following a tournament in Petersburg, Fla., in late December.
Kelly, now a sophomore at Bridgewater, surely wants her starting spot back, and she said the desire to reclaim her starting role has sharpened her focus.
"I was starting the first eight games and then I started coming off the bench, so all I've been doing in practice is I've been working on getting my starting spot back," Kelly said after the Eagles seized a thrilling 58-56 victory over Shenandoah University on Wednesday night. "But I'm just trying to contribute no matter if I'm starting or not. When they call my name I'm ready, no matter if I'm off the bench or starting the game."
Kelly made a strong statement for a return to the Eagles' starting five against Shenandoah, as the 6-foot center scored a career-high 10 points in what was a homecoming game of sorts for the Front Royal native. Kelly played a key role in Bridgewater's comeback win, as the sophomore hit a pair of key buckets in the paint to help the Eagles erase a 13-point deficit late in the second half.
Kelly also finished with four rebounds and two steals, and Willi said that was just the type of game that she hopes to continue to see from Kelly in the future.
"I think she's capable of that," Willi said, adding that Kelly has been a "pleasant surprise" for Bridgewater this season. "She's athletic around the rim. She's more comfortable on the block."
And therein lies the key to consistent progress for Kelly in her collegiate career.
The sophomore admits that she may not have approached her first college basketball season the way she should have, and Kelly found out in a hurry that playing basketball at the college level is much different than playing in high school. As a result, the comfort level on the court just wasn't there last season.
"I couldn't do what I used to do [in high school], so I was getting my shot blocked. I was more confident than I was supposed to be last season, but it really opened my eyes," Kelly said. "Basically last year was a learning experience and I came into this season knowing that I needed to become a better shooter, I needed to work on my post moves, I need to hustle more, I need to condition. That's all I did over the summer. It's been paying off so far, so I just have to keep it up and not stop what I'm doing and not be content where I'm at."
Kelly played in 23 of the Eagles' 25 games as a freshman last season, but she averaged less than five minutes of playing time a game.
Her role drastically changed this season, however, as the loss of forwards Katelynn Hottinger and Shannan Thorne -- a James Wood grad -- from last year's 14-11 squad opened the door for Kelly.
In 13 games this season for the Eagles (5-8, 3-2 ODAC), Kelly is averaging 5.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, and she has seen her playing time jump to 16.7 minutes per game (she played 25 minutes on Wednesday). And Kelly's level of play continues to rise as she gets more comfortable on the court.
"She's improved quite a bit. I think she's more comfortable on the floor," Willi said. "I think she kind of understands the game a little better and she understands what she needs to do to be effective in the post for us this season."
Kelly said she worked hard in the offseason to improve her conditioning, and she frequently attended open gym at Skyline over the summer, where she would compete against the boys to ensure that she was playing against the toughest competition available. All of that work has helped sharpen her post game.
"I'm learning more post moves... I'm learning how to read where the defense is and where to go, stuff like if the defender is on the bottom I know to go up top with a hook," Kelly said. "I know how to feel the defense to see what move I need to do."
Kelly said her only goal for the rest of her collegiate career is to contribute as much as she can to her team. Whether that is in a starting role or not, it makes little difference to Kelly.
"It does give me a lot more motivation. I'm in the gym a lot more now because I really want my starting spot back," Kelly said. "But it doesn't really matter to me, I just go out whenever I'm called on and I do what I'm supposed to do."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD