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Creek’s Fab Five ready for regional action

NOTHING BUT SMILES — Celebrating the program’s first district title Saturday are, from left, Indian Creek’s Taylor Jones, Kylie Kiger, Makenzie Taylor, Abigail Starkey and Abby Copeland. Not shown is starting guard Hailey Clark. The Redskins open Division II regional action against Sheridan today in Zanesville. -Joe Catullo

WINTERSVILLE — Since this group of girls basketball players made a name for themselves three seasons ago, Indian Creek has been known as a Big 3 with Kylie Kiger, Taylor Jones and Makenzie Taylor. All were on the All-Eastern District list a year ago, and Jones and Kiger are 1,000-point scorers

As the Redskins prepare for the program’s first regional contest today against Sheridan, it is anything but just those three seniors now. With the emergence of Hailey Clark and Abby Copeland, also seniors, Creek puts on the floor day in and day out its version of a Fab Five.

“We all just have a part,” Clark said. “Obviously, Taylor and Kylie are great on the offensive side. Makenzie’s helping out on both, and I’m more on the defensive side. We all have been playing together forever now, so we’re just used to each other and just comes along like that.”

Clark knows her main role is a defensive specialist that averages around five steals per contest. What has been the biggest improvement this season is her offensive output, scoring 10 points per game.

That began when she dropped a career-high 23 points against Steubenville on Dec. 14, and she has not looked back since.

“This offseason, her and I sat down and talked about what she needed to be better at for us to go the next level,” head coach Steve Eft said. “We talked about shooting at a higher percentage from 3 and turning the ball over less. Both have improved, so she took that to heart, worked and got the job done. We’ve always had confidence in her, but now she’s believing in herself.”

Clark said she began shooting during practice more often in the offseason, whether it was 10 attempts or 100. As for her defense, she was not about to let her secret slip.

“I really don’t (have one),” she said. “It’s just the intensity. I mean I’ve always been known to produce on the defensive side, but that’s basically it.”

As for Copeland, she also has a bigger role defensively rather than on the other side of the court. So far, her most well-known contribution has been guarding the other team’s best player. That was on full display during Creek’s victory over Big Red in the district seminal Thursday when she limited Makayla Abram to eight points through the first three quarters (19 overall, though she did not guard her much in the fourth).

“My role on the team, I don’t know how to describe it,” Copeland said. “I’m there to cause some chaos, be a quick defender and get up and down the court.

“There is a lot of pressure that’s hard to describe. I think coach (Eft) trusts me to guard the other team’s best player because I’m quick and not afraid to get into it with anyone aggressively.”

Eft simply said that Copeland is like the glue that holds everything together.

“She guards the best player on the other team and just does all of the things that do not show up in the stat book,” he said. “She’s a leader on the court and is a big part of what we’re doing. She’s very interchangeable and can play anywhere on the court.

“She doesn’t care about scoring, but she did have some big baskets against Steubenville (on Thursday). Really, she only had two points on Saturday (in the district final), but those were two big points in the fourth quarter. She makes timely buckets and just always makes the right play.”

Although the Redskins have a Fab Five, that is no disrespect towards sophomore guard Abigail Starkey, really the only option off the bench.

“It is hard because we have a small team. But, when she comes in, the pace is still high, and she helps keep the intensity up,” Copeland said. “She doesn’t cause any downfall. She comes in and give great contributions.”

And, Starkey does not sub in just for Kiger or Clark. She can fill in for anyone. When that happens, if Taylor or Jones need a rest, Copeland switches from small forward to the inside.

“She has a tough role. These seniors are a tight-knit group, but they’ve accepted her in that role, and she comes in and plays hard,” Eft said. “That’s the biggest thing — she’s not afraid to stick her nose in there defensively, go get a loose ball or a rebound.”

All in all, whatever Creek decides to do on a daily basis, it has been working to this point. Following a day off Sunday, it went back to work Monday — in March no less.

“I actually came into practice and said, ‘Wow. We’re still practicing, and it’s March 1.’ We all said March Madness, Sweet 16,” Clark said.

It indeed is madness, and all of it begins at 5:30 p.m. today in Zanesville against one of the best squads in Ohio.

The Redskins are the underdogs, something they usually are not. Eft believes his team has nothing to lose.

“We’re going to go in there and give it everything we got,” Eft said. “The pressure’s probably more on them than us. Maybe we’re not necessarily supposed to be in that game. This is their fourth straight regional appearance, and that No. 1 ranking can weigh heavy on some teams. Hopefully, we can put a little pressure on them and come out with a win.”

Creek’s top priority will be to limit junior forward Faith Stinson. Again, she is just a junior.

That is important to know because she already is the Generals’ all-time leading blocker. She also holds the single-season records for most points (467) and blocks (88) in a single season, this season in fact.

“They have a really nice post player inside and a lot of shooters around her. They’re ranked No. 1 in Division II for a reason,” Eft said. “They have really good guard play and a really nice post player who has really good footwork and can score. We’re going to have our hands full defensively.

“They play mostly man (on defense). They pick you up full court, so it’s going to be a challenge. They don’t pressure you as much as West Holmes, but they do pick you up full court and have girls that can guard.”

No matter what unfolds, these Redskins already are one of the greatest clubs to ever grace the Wintersville landscape. Since it became Indian Creek High School, they already have gone further than any other girls squad before them.

“It’s a weird feeling because we’ve never made it this far before, but it’s a good feeling,” Copeland said. “Us five have collectively been playing together since the sixth grade. We all know how well we each play, and that’s what makes us work well as a team.”

If Creek advances, it will then challenge the McArthur Vinton County/Tri-Valley winner at 7 p.m. Friday in Zanesville.

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