FRONT ROYAL — At his previous coaching stop, Randy Bush never in his 10 years at Hidden Valley High School had a girls basketball team as young as the one he’s inherited at Warren County.
The Wildcats dive into the 2018-19 season — which begins tonight with a game at Millbrook — with just one senior and two juniors on their roster to lead a group of seven sophomores. And the team’s level of varsity experience is even worse than the meager amount that roster makeup might suggest.
Rylee Broy, the senior, was injured when Bush spoke on the status of his first Warren County team last Wednesday; one junior, Aubrey LeBlanc, is a Strasburg transfer who didn’t play basketball last season; and of the seven sophomores, only Kara Mondrone and Mackenzi Bates have any varsity experience, and Bush said that amounts to “about five minutes” of action the duo saw last year combined.
Junior post player Briana Hogan, who ranked third on the team in scoring last season (7.1 points per game) and got a late start to basketball practice this month after the volleyball team’s deep playoff run, is the only Wildcat who has played meaningful minutes, and the dearth of varsity veterans prompted Bush to admit that “we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
“I’ve had it easy for a few years with the teams I‘ve had in the past. This is rejuvenating to me,” said Bush, who guided Hidden Valley to back-to-back state semifinal appearances in 2016 and 2017. “I’m gonna have to coach more than I have in the past and I’m OK with that.”
That coaching is going to be all-encompassing, and the fundamentals are just the start of the lessons that the Wildcats are learning and will continue to learn under Bush’s tutelage. The first-year head coach said Warren County will emphasize film study this season to increase the team’s collective basketball IQ, and Bush put his players through a class last week on how to properly use those film sessions.
Bush added last week that the team captains, Hogan and Broy, would attend “classroom settings” designed to teach leadership (he expressed confidence that Hogan will serve as a strong leader for the Wildcats), and after the first of two “rough” scrimmages against Park View-Sterling on Nov. 14, he informed the Wildcats that if the enthusiasm of the coaching staff outweighs that of the players, then “we have a problem.”
“They learned from that and now it’s better,” Bush said. “So it’s just gonna be learning that type of stuff — basketball IQ, enthusiasm. We’re even gonna practice how we’re gonna act on the bench. I mean we’re gonna practice everything. I told them one day you’re gonna come into practice and there’s gonna be a bench set up, and we’re gonna put a situation out on the court and when that happens, this is what I want the bench to do. We’re gonna teach them the whole game.”
Even with a more experienced team last season — it’s only campaign under former head coach Christine Simmons — Warren County went 8-13 and failed to make the Region 3B tournament field. The turnaround will take time.
When Bush was announced as the Wildcats’ new head coach back in August, he said he would wait until he got a better feel for his roster before dedicating the team to specific offensive and defensive schemes. Last Wednesday Bush said he still had yet to get that far.
“We’re gonna stick with the fundamentals and see where the fundamentals take us,” Bush said. “We’ve got all sorts of things that we can do. We’re just gonna have to wait and see still. We’re gonna be a work in progress in January. It’s not gonna be a quick fix.”
Getting the players to understand that and keeping them engaged and learning through what is bound to be a season filled with growing pains, Bush said, is the key to handling the level of inexperience the Wildcats have to work with this winter.
Warren County has spurned short-term goals, which Bush said can be limiting once you achieve them, and instead is aiming for season-long improvement and growth.
“I’m excited about it,” said Bush, who added that the Wildcats have made his job easier by their willingness to learn. “We’re gonna take our lumps this year but we’re gonna get better each and every time out.”