Mark Stinson likes to mix and match, switch things up, mess with opposing coaches – so it’s understandable that he’s pleased with the potential his 2012-’13 University Titans are showing thus far in the Greater Spokane League girls basketball season.
After dropping their first three decisions of the season, losing by two points to Ferris (59-57), by six to Class 3A rival Mt. Spokane (47-41) and by seven to Kamiakin (51-44), the Titans have rebounded to post convincing victories over Central Valley and North Central and pull off a 44-43 win over Mead.
“We’re learning – it’s on-the-job training for some of us,” Stinson said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re not one-dimensional players.
“We don’t have much of a nonleague season to figure things out, so we’ve had to hit the ground running. We only have two nonleague games. We had the one with Kamiakin and we’ll travel down to play at Richland over the (Christmas) break, and that’s it.”
The veteran coach has a versatile lineup that allows him to freely create matchup problems for opponents, all without changing personnel. Add to that some solid experience from last year’s state tournament, where the Titans earned a fifth-place trophy.
“We can change things up pretty easily,” he explained. “We can take players and move them inside, move them outside – it makes for some matchup challenges.
“I think every year you kind of have to reboot things and start over, but we do have some players who got some good playing time last year.”
It helps to have an exceptional athlete like 5-foot-11 guard Kayleigh Valley, who signed a national letter of intent to play college basketball at the University of Montana in late October. A second-team pick on last year’s Class 3A All-Tournament team, Valley is quick enough to get by most defenders who try to match up with her height, and tall enough to post up most defenders looking to slow down her quickness.
“I won’t try to speak for Kayleigh, but getting all that recruiting stuff out of the way can’t help but make things easier for her,” Stinson said. “Until you sign, you’re getting calls from coaches all the time and it can be a distraction.
“I know she’s happy with Montana. Family is very big for her, and her family will have the chance to see her play quite a bit. She’s guaranteed to play (at Eastern Washington) once a year and Montana generally plays Gonzaga, so they will see her here. But I’m sure they’ll be traveling to Missoula to see her play frequently and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a few Montana road trips scouted out to go on as well.”
Mix Valley with 5-8 junior guard/forward Cassie Shillam, who is adept both inside and outside as well, and you have a recipe for creating headaches to opposing coaches.
Shillam is finally healthy for the first time since midway through her freshman season.
“She blew out her ACL at the end of her freshman season and she needed surgery to fix that,” Stinson said. “She missed summer ball before last season and, to be honest, I think the whole season last year was about her getting back her rhythm. She struggled with an ankle injury and things like that along the way.”
Against CV, the pair fueled big second- and fourth-quarter flourishes and both scored in double figures. Shillam finished with 19 points, Valley with 11.
Against North Central, they took it to the next level as both posted a double-double. Shillam had her season-high 20 points to go with 11 rebounds. Valley had 12 points and a team-high 14 boards.
Stinson said he plans to give his players a full four days off before getting back to work on Boxing Day.
“I think every coach likes to go back and work on the stuff they’ve been struggling with over the Christmas break,” he said. “We have some things that we haven’t been able to get put in yet because we’ve been getting ready for league games. We’ll have a chance to work on that stuff and the girls will have the chance to spend some quality time on the bus for our game at Richland.”
Road trips and team gatherings away from the basketball court are an important aspect of developing a basketball team, Stinson said.
“You’d like it to be all happy, all the time, but in the end it’s all about the journey,” he said. “There are going to be some trouble spots, and a few tears along the way. But in the end, they may not remember the score of the game or who won or lost, for that matter. But they will remember the bus rides and the times they spent together.”
Over Christmas, he said, the team has a few special events planned.
“The girls will be going out together caroling,” Stinson said. “They do a good job – they come by my house every year and sing for us.”
So, how are his basketball players as singers?
“I think the ones who can sing do a very good job of drowning out the ones who can’t,” he laughed.