FRONT ROYAL – Skyline girls basketball coach Jim Kenney, like a lot of coaches at the onset of a new season, knows that the Hawks have some work to do to reach the potential he sees in his squad. But if team chemistry correlates to success, the Hawks have a strong foundation to build on.
Kenney said on Monday that Skyline isn’t lacking when it comes to camaraderie, adding that he’s “comfortable with where we are right now” as his team gets set to open the 2018-19 season with a game at John Champe.
“As long as they do what we’re asking them to do — push the pace, limit the turnovers, ball movement and then defensively really get after it, I think we’ll be very competitive. At least I hope so,” Kenney said. “The bottom line is this year the chemistry is really, really good. It’s just such good chemistry this year. All the girls really like each other. I don’t know if that translates to a bunch of wins or not. I know it makes life easier when you’ve got kids who like each other, who wanna be around each other, who wanna hang out after practice. … It’s just a really good group.”
Kenney was left “disappointed” when he learned that a few players were not returning to the Hawks’ girls basketball program this season, a group that includes Colette Salyers and Emma Benson, who ranked second and third on the team in scoring last year. But Skyline does retain some important pieces from last year’s 10-13 squad.
Senior point guard Rachel Sirbaugh led the Hawks in scoring last season (10.6 ppg) and is entering her fourth season as a varsity player. Senior forward Shyla Schmitz was Skyline’s leading rebounder last year and its fourth-leading scorer, and classmate Zaryn Rateb averaged 4.0 rebounds and led the team with 1.8 steals per game in 2017-18.
Yet another senior, 5-foot-11 forward Molly Meador, did not play last season but has returned to the court for the Hawks this winter, giving Skyline a presence inside that Kenney said the team has lacked in recent years.
“We haven’t had what I would consider a big girl in a couple years, so we’ve sort of changed … our offensive philosophy a little bit this year because Molly is a big girl who can run,” Kenney said. “So I think what we’re trying to teach and instill is ‘hey, let’s get the ball out and run, let’s run, let’s push the ball, let’s push the pace.’ When we run and push the ball, we get a lot better shots than if we slow it down and have to do our half-court situations or whatever it is, so we’ve really been working hard on getting the ball down the floor quickly.”
In the Class 3 Northwestern District and Region 3B, Kenney said William Monroe — led by Notre Dame signee Samantha Brunnelle — is going to be a “tough out” this season, as will Culpeper County. Both teams reached the Class 3 state quarterfinals last season. Kenney added that he’s hoping the Hawks are on the short list of schools that follow those two frontrunners.
“Our goal is to be one of those top three teams — us, William Monroe, Culpeper,” he said. “I don’t really know a whole lot about anybody else yet, but our region, it’s always competitive. I can’t remember the last time we had what you would call an easy game. There’s no such thing. … We have to work really, really hard to be competitive and good, and these girls do.”
Skyline doesn’t figure to get many easy games outside of its region, either. The Hawks open with Champe, a Class 5 program (which the Hawks beat by 16 last season), and has games scheduled against Class 2 teams Central and Clarke County (twice) and Class 4 foes Millbrook, James Wood and Handley in their first seven games.
“That is a tough schedule,” Kenney said. “But I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in live-game situations. Really looking forward to seeing what some of these underclassmen do. We’ve got three sophomores and a freshman that we’ve got high expectations for. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens on Wednesday down at John Champe.”