For head coach Phil Villiott and his extremely young Blessed Sacrament Huguenot girls basketball team, the shortened 2020-21 season is a chance to build towards the future.
“Just to get them out there to play against competition and to compete – that in itself … is a plus,” Villiott said. “Just gaining that experience – the critical experience – is what I’m looking forward to for them – and to have all the ups and downs that come along with that.”
The Knights graduated three of the five players who led them to a first-round victory in the 2020 VISAA state tournament and to a runner-up result in the Virginia Colonial Conference tourney. From that five, BSH brings back sophomore and third-year starter Madelyn Mitchell, freshman and second-year starter Hailey Holcombe and, with those two players, 60 percent of the team’s offense from last year, according to Villiott.
While both players have AAU experience in addition to their contributions to BSH, they’re still part of a young core that includes six freshmen and two sophomores on the 10-player roster.
Villiott said returning freshman Charlie Potter has really improved her ball-handling skills, her shooting and her confidence. Lone senior Alyssa Shively played in spots last year, and her contributions to the team are expected to increase this winter.
Newcomers include Savannah Riddell, a post player who transferred in from St. Mary’s in Henrico and has done well previously according to Villiott, and Berkley Roudabush, who will also play in the post with Mitchell.
With Elizabeth Carter, Sidney McMinn and Katie Schiefer all graduating, Villiott said this year’s players are going to have different roles, with those changes include Holcombe also running the point.
“In the long run, looking past high school, I think it’s going to benefit Hailey a lot for running the point, especially for ball handling,” Villiott said.
He complimented the team’s cohesiveness and ball movement – they seem to be passing to each other pretty well and also getting along with each other pretty well, he said – but he noted they’ve been trying to develop more consistent scorers in addition to Holcombe and Mitchell.
The team is not expected to change a whole lot defensively. They’ll still have a variety of defenses to turn to, whether it be man, zone or pressure.
Villiott did note that, this season, there’s going to be “a lot of teaching, a lot of learning.”
“But I told them the other day – this young group, if they all stay here, it’ll be a couple years, but ... having six freshmen is definitely an advantage if they stay with it,” he said.
This particular season should also help in that regard.
There won’t be the pressure of striving to win the Virginia Colonial Conference championship and qualify for states. As it stands, there will be no VCC tournament this year, and anyone who wants to play in the upcoming VISAA state tournament will be able to do so.
Those changes, Villiott said, will give him a little more freedom to play people for the sake of experience.
It also gives the young players a chance to gain the necessary gametime experience that should benefit them in the seasons to come.
It’s expected that there will be mistakes, but as the season progresses, Villiott said that “those mistakes hopefully will become less and less.”
“You’ll know how to break a press, you’ll know how to make free throws in critical situations, etcetera,” he said.
The regular season is here now, and they’re taking precautions – Villiott wears a mask, the players are required to wear masks on-campus, Villiott cleans the basketballs after practice every day, he and the school both check the players’ temperature, they have hand sanitizer out and they keep distance in practice – but the practices themselves remain a constant.
The main goals for this season, Villiott noted, are getting the season off the ground, making it safe for everybody and giving the players a chance to grow and participate in the sport.