The St. Louis area has had another outstanding season on the hardwood, but there is one story that sticks out and it involves five girls doing everything they can to just finish the season. But this group did so much more! The Whitfield girls’ basketball program proved to a lot of people that hard work and having heart can get you the success that you deserve.
The Warriors fell into a situation that many girls’ programs around the country have encountered over the past few years, low numbers of girls wanting to play basketball. The number of girls wanting to play the game has dropped by over 25 % according to The Athletic Journal over the past few years. There are many reasons for this alarming trend to take place, but the Whitfield girls overcame that and showed that it could be done by being competitive and winning a district title a few weeks ago.
The season started with first-year head coach Chris Ellis having only eight players. Then right before Christmas, he and the administration decided to put the season on hold due to players being sick and injured. It was during this hiatus that the team regrouped and added a junior varsity volleyball player that has never played basketball before.
“Amali McBride, our sophomore, brought in a classmate by the name of Caroline Dahlhoff to play”, stated Ellis. “She is tall and athletic, but she told me to not expect very much as I have never played. I said that it was Ok, and we will make it work. She then put in her 14 practice days which ended the day we played Edwardsville. That was the target date, and the young lady played every second of the game.”
With five players, the Warriors restarted their season against the Tigers on January 19. Even though they fell to the Tigers, you could just see that those five were going to give everything they had to play and win.
After dropping their next two games to Westminster and Visitation, the Warriors won eight of their last nine games which included a 66-58 victory over Parkway Central to win the district title. Whitfield then saw their season end in the Class 5 quarterfinals with a loss to Lutheran St. Charles 67-33.
The biggest factor in this story is that only one player had played significant varsity minutes heading into this year. Tkiyah Nelson was the leader of the team with those valuable minutes as she was the team’s leading scorer with an average of 19.8 per game. She also added a team-high 10.8 rebounds per game, but it was her leadership off the court that was amazing.
“I am so proud of these girls,” said Ellis. “When you think about it, I had a freshman that did not play at a very high-level coming in. We had two sophomores with only one that saw a lot of playing time on the varsity last year. When you think about it, only Tkiyah was the only accomplished basketball player at the varsity level. So, for them to play at a high level like that when only one of the five saw any appreciative varsity time the year before is astounding. And we were competitive in almost every game. We lost to Viz by 18, but we were competitive in the games that we lost, and we were not embarrassed. It was such an amazing deal.”
Winning is one thing, but trying to practice and get into a routine is a different subject as Coach Ellis and his staff had to get very creative with those situations.
“Practices were hard,” stated Ellis. “What were we going to do with just five girls? Even to choreograph a five-player pre-game because we could not do a two-line layup drill. We had to get creative in all aspects. I would not trade it at all. Five was the magic number because if we have less, we do not have a season and with anything more, we don’t have a story to tell.”
One of the things that Coach Ellis was impressed with as well as how the group came together, especially Dahloff. For a player to have never played basketball before, she was able to contribute and especially in the quarterfinal game where she had six rebounds and did not turn the ball over.
Another player Ellis mentioned was McBride as she was the team’s second-leading scorer with 16.3 points per contest.
“In my mind, McBride was one of the best guards in the area at the end of the season without any doubt,” said Ellis.
Ellis also mentioned the contributions of Kayli McGee-Williams and Kali Whitfield as they were key contributors to help make this season a success. McGee-Williams was outstanding on the boards averaging 6.8 rebounds per game while Whitfield added nearly five points a contest and 2.9 rebounds per game.
The accomplishments of this have not gone unnoticed in the community as pointed out by their Athletic Director Mike Roth.
“It was a unique situation for these girls,” stated Roth. “Coach Ellis had to get creative with not only his practice schedule and planning along with managing the game due to fatigue and fouls. Our Whitfield community is so extremely proud of the accomplishment of this group of ladies. Their determination, work ethic, and their love of the game persevered throughout the season. All five girls brought different talents and strengths to the team. Whether their role was a defender, passer, ball handler, screener, or scorer, all those players accepted their role and worked to the best of their abilities to assure that the team would be successful”.
This story may at some point be forgotten by many that are not true basketball junkies, but for these five girls and coaches, the memories that they have created this year will without a doubt, last a lifetime.
Jim Powers has been covering prep sports in the St. Louis area for 15+ years and a part of the Missouri State High School Activities Association Championship Broadcasts for the past 11 years. Powers is also a part of the Fox 2 Verlo Mattress Prep Zone Friday nights at 10:10 during the football and basketball seasons. If you have a prep sports story, please contact Jim at email@example.com. Follow Jim at @hssportscaravan