PDT Sports Contributor
NEW BOSTON – After Jon Estep witnessed a one-win season in 2012-2013 and watched with hopelessness as his New Boston Tigers lost 21 games in a row to end the year, he knows that there is nowhere for the Tigers to go but up.
However, the return of four senior players as well as the emergence of sophomore guard Eden Howard gives Estep hope that the Tigers can emerge out of the cellar of the SOC I.
“Last year was a struggle,” Estep said. “Winning your first game of the year and then not winning for the rest of the year, it was a tough year, not only from a win-loss standpoint, but from injuries to illnesses, and then losing one of our key players, one of our seniors (Shawna Buckley) to another ACL injury halfway through the year really killed us. We battled the best we could. There’s only one way to go for us this year and that is up.”
The only game that New Boston was able to keep within a 10-point margin at the final gun last season was in the first meeting against SOC I rival East, where the Tigers lost by nine points.
A big reason for New Boston’s problems last season was the Tigers’ lack of offensive production. Overall, New Boston was held to under 30 points in 13 of their 21 losses last season. The Tigers were also held to under 20 points twice last year, including a season-low 15 in a loss against Symmes Valley.
However, injures had a lot to do with that offensive production as New Boston lost a key producer in Shawna Buckley, who tore her ACL for the second time in her basketball career back in December.
The Tigers also lost another key producer in first-year starter Katie Meehan, who graduated with Buckley this past May.
However, Estep believes that the Tigers are more attentive to the details this season and he likes what he has seen in practice as far as the team’s level of focus is concerned.
“The girls are coming in a little more focused,” Estep said. “Our numbers aren’t the greatest right now. This is the lowest (amount of players) that we’ve had since I’ve been here. But the girls have come in and worked hard, they’re working together and they’re committed to the goals that we have.”
Estep isn’t sure who is starting five will be. However, of the nine players that are on New Boston’s roster, four are seniors, including Kaitlyn Fannin, Courtney McGahan, Kiersten McGraw, and Emily Waugh. All will likely see significant amounts of playing time as Estep will look to keep all of his players as fresh as possible.
Regardless of the lineup, Estep says that New Boston has more size this year and the Tigers will be looking to utilize that size in the post.
“… Last year, we were very small,” Estep said. “This year, we do have a little bit more post play that we’re going to try to take advantage of on our end. So night in and night out, our starting lineup could vary.”
Estep believes that Howard has a chance to showcase her skills both inside and outside of the conference as he feels that Howard’s growth over the second half of her freshman season will help New Boston tremendously this season.
“(Howard) didn’t get to play the first half of the year because of transferring, but she came out the last 10 games once we had the injury (to Buckley),” Estep said. “She came in and she started for us. We’re looking for her to be that next go-to scorer. She had a couple of good games near the end of the year last season. In our tournament game last season (against Leesburg Fairfield), she came out and led our team in the game with 18 points. We’re looking for a lot from her.
Overall, Estep believes that New Boston cannot use depth as an excuse for the trials that the Tigers could go through this season.
“Depth obviously is going to be an issue, but at this level, you are kind of set with 7 or 8 (players) that you are going to have to rotate in and out,” Estep said. “And that’s what we’re going to look at, and that’s what we have to work with. We got to go up and be competitive in every single game and show teams that we’re improving, we’re getting better and we’re giving ourselves a chance to win night in and night out.”
New Boston’s schedule will help as far as creating positive momentum is concerned, as the Tigers will have 10 of their first 15 games at home, including two games as part of the Glenwood Winter Tournament held on December 23rd and December 28th.
However, New Boston will pay the price at the end of the season as the Tigers will have to go on the road in five of their final six games, with trips to SOC I rivals East and Green as a part of the stretch.