Manhattan High girls’ basketball coach Scott Mall knows it won’t be easy replacing Mari Jo Massanet and Onyeka Ehie.
The two were a dangerous inside-out combo that led the Indians to a 20-3 overall record last year and a title-winning 13-0 Centennial League record, as well as a berth in the state tournament.
This year’s team returns just two starters — Darby Price and Elayna Spilker — and will have to find a new identity as quickly as possible to start the season.
“We’ve obviously lost some very good players off last year’s team,” Mall said. “The nice thing, is we have some good players back. Elayna Spilker and Darby Price both started for us last year, and both really played well down the stretch when we went on a good run there.”
Mall also pointed to senior Kristen Thompson, who struggled through an injury-plagued junior campaign but was the top outside shooter as a sophomore, as a potential starter.
“She started two years ago and has had some injury problems — but that’s a nice place to start,” he said. “It’s just a matter of filling in right now and establishing some depth at some positions.”
Past those three, finding quality depth will be the biggest challenge for Mall in the early part of the season. Most of the girls coming in off the bench are either young, inexperienced or both.
“Most of them are really young or have no varsity experience, so it’s a lot early to have them step into roles,” he said. “Our backup guards are sophomores for the most part, so there’s a lot for them to learn. Forwards, we had some girls that played on the JV, but aren’t very big, so that adds to the load. They need some experience and they’ll have to battle girls that are taller than them.”
Losing Massanet in the post will be especially hard to replace, as a size advantage will be a luxury the Indians won’t have most of the year.
“We’re going to be 5-foot-10, with 5-8 coming off the bench,” Mall said. “We’ll play teams with point guards who are bigger than that. Then just that experience. We have four girls who played a lot of varsity last year. The rest of them didn’t play much, so there’s that experience factor.”
Mall said this year’s team won’t necessarily change what the Indians want to do schematically, though the coach expects to play to his strengths.
“We do basically the same stuff, but we change every year and adapt to our personnel,” he said. “There are years we shoot a lot of 3s, and there are years when we pound the ball inside because of personnel. I think with what we do, we can adapt to about anything.”
As far as a strength going into the first game of the season on Friday, Mall pointed to his team’s ability — collectively — to shoot the ball.
“We do some things well,” he said. “We have some girls who really do a good job of penetrating to the basket, and then playing off of that. I think our forwards can shoot midrange really well, so I think that’s a strength.”
Manhattan, which is ranked No. 10 in Class 6A in the preseason by the KBCA, opens the season with a road trip to Derby on Friday at 6 p.m.