By Doug Chapin
HOWLAND — The Thanksgiving holiday traditionally is a time for families.
A sense of family togetherness helped in the final minutes of Warren Harding’s 57-50 season-opening girls basketball victory Friday night over Howland High.
“We’ve had a rough month, these girls have been going through some adversity, some things in life,” Harding coach P.J. Notar said. “We’ve dealt with some family issues and they’ve really stayed focused and kept their goals in mind. And one of their goals was to win tonight.
“Even with some serious adversity these kids have been going through in their family lives, they showed on the court they could stay together as a team, as a family.”
The Raiders, who scored the first nine points of the game and held quarter leads of 13-8, 21-19 and 35-25, were on top 45-33 with 5:01 remaining. But two minutes later that lead had dwindled to 46-42.
From that point, though, Harding made all nine of its free throw attempts and continued its tenacious defense to hold off the Tigers.
Senior post player Jasmine Kirkland led the Raiders with 20 points. She also filled the stat sheet with six steals, four rebounds and two blocked shots. Kourtney Williams contributed 11 points, six rebounds and four steals.
“This program, since I took over four years ago, has been built for this moment,” Notar said. “That’s why we started so many freshmen four years ago. The coaching staff, the players, the administration, the city of Warren and Warren City Schools should be proud of this team. I’m just thrilled to be a part of it.
“The girls did a great job of listening and being disciplined. They don’t get enough credit for being disciplined. They’re the ones that looked like they were in control tonight. We made our free throws and really put the pressure on Howland.”
The Tigers don’t have quite the experience that Harding has, though Howland does return two players — Taylor Williams and Erika Nites — who started a season ago as freshmen. However, their roles have changed this year.
“Everyone did everything for them last year, all they had to do was play a little defense and score,” Howland coach John Diehl said. “Now they’ve got to take a leadership role and that’s something that’s hard to learn to do. But they will do it and by the time they are juniors and seniors they will be very good at it.”
Williams finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Nites had a tough night, making just one of her 15 field goal attempts. Fellow sophomore Olivia Nicholas contributed 10 points, five assists and five steals, and Kaylee Redon grabbed nine rebounds.
“We kind of told them at halftime that we had nobody that was hot but we were still in the ballgame,” Diehl said. “I’ve seen lots of games where your shooter gets hot in the second half, but tonight it did not happen.
“To me, that’s the difference for us, but I’m not taking anything away from Harding. These guys have been playing together for four years and they deserved to win tonight. We’ve got three young kids and they definitely outplayed us tonight.”
Both coaches are optimistic about the remainder of the season.
“This was Olivia Nicholas’ first game as a point guard as a varsity player. She has to learn to adjust to the speed and she’ll get better at that,” said Diehl. “I’m sure Erika will shoot better as the season progresses. I’m not really disappointed. With three sophomores and a JV player who didn’t play any varsity last year, our performance was OK.”
“We’ve got a long way to go and the girls know that,” Notar said about the Raiders. “We know we’re going to get better as the season goes. We need to work on our pressure, getting to certain places at certain times. We know we’ve got to work on running the offense better, that was a little sluggish at times. And we know we need to pick each other up, in school and out of school.”
Just like members of a family.