B.J. Condron knew good things were coming for the Orange girls basketball program, he was just off by a year.
The fourth-year coach thought last season would be when his team would experience their breakthrough moment. It’s come one year later than expected, but he’s certainly not complaining.
It’s mid-January and Orange is still unbeaten after defeating Big 8 Conference opponent J.F. Webb 64-37 Friday.
“We knew it was coming. I was hoping it would’ve come last year, but this year they’ve just exceeded my expectation,” said Condron.
From the outside looking in, the Panthers’ ascension from the bottom to the top of the Big 8 seems out of the blue. Orange (14-0, 4-0) last had a winning record in the 2009-10 season, and it posted losing records in each of Condron’s first three seasons, going 19-56 during that span.
But something has clicked for this year’s Panthers, who have found success by using their athleticism to play aggressively on defense. Running a full-court press after made shots, Orange has been able to consistently force turnovers, and get good looks at the basket as a result.
That was the case against Webb (7-6, 3-2). The Warriors started the game off well – they led 8-2 three minutes into the first quarter – but ultimately had a difficult time getting into their half-court offense after Orange started to knock down some shots.
“I thought we did some good things early on both ends of the floor, but then we had some breakdowns,” Webb coach Mike Rotolo said.
One of the main beneficiaries of the Panthers’ willingness to apply pressure was senior shooting guard Jazlyn Watson, who led all scorers with 13 points, many of which came in transition and near the rim.
“We spend a lot of time running that press. So, that’s what really helped us get that win tonight,” Watson said.
Watson doesn’t have a lengthy explanation for why Orange is winning more often compared to past seasons. But like her coach, she believes the amount of experience the team possesses is beginning to pay dividends.
“We’ve just had some girls that have bought in. We have seven seniors on our team this year, and they’ve been with us for four years,” Condron said. “Some of them have been on varsity for four years. So, they’ve just come together for us this year. They’ve stepped up.”
In addition to Watson, three of Orange’s other four starters are seniors. Shooting guard Kaylen Campbell entered Friday’s contest averaging a team-high 13.8 points per game, and in the paint power forward Bethlyn Early and center Mia Davidson each play key roles.
Condron also has the luxury of a deep bench, too. His rotation against Webb was about 10 players deep, and 31 of Orange’s points came from substitutes, 12 of which were via junior power forward Icez Barnett.
Webb was led in scoring by senior small forward Mia Terry, who had nine points.
Despite their perfect record, the Panthers are not flawless. Condron said his team has to get better at running their offense out of half-court sets when scoring in transition isn’t an option.
The coming weeks will serve as a litmus test of sorts for the Panthers. Orange faces rival Cedar Ridge Saturday, and have yet to play Northwood, the only other team undefeated in Big 8 play.
Meanwhile, Rotolo is hoping the Warriors can put Friday’s loss behind them sooner than later. Due to the recent winter weather, Webb had only one day of practice to prepare for Friday’s game, and he commented that his players looked a bit out of shape.
Still, Webb finds itself with a winning record, and there’s reason for optimism, according to Rotolo.
“We’ve got to get back in shape. The season’s still early, and we haven’t even completed the first cycle yet,” Rotolo said. “We have exams next week, and obviously academics are a priority, and then we’ll get back out there.”