SIDNEY — Late in a Miami Valley League game against Xenia on Wednesday, there was some confusion among Sidney players about a play call on an inbounds pass along Sidney’s baseline.
After some discussion among plays, freshman guard Allie Stockton told freshman guard Lexee Brewer to “just make it work.”
The play worked. Brewer threw it inbounds to Cassidy Truesdale, who then threw to back to her, and she hit a long jumper from just inside the arc in the left corner.
It’s not the only thing working for Sidney’s girls basketball team. The Yellow Jackets are making just about everything work and are enjoying their best start in four seasons.
Sidney ran away late to beat Xenia 72-48 in an MVL Valley Division contest to improve to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in league play. It’s the program’s best record through eight games since an 8-0 start in 2015-16.
“It’s great, and we’re just five points away from winning (our two losses), so I’m really pleased,” Sidney first-year coach Jamal Foster said. “We’re competitive. We’re just trying to go out and learn every day and compete to the best of our ability. We practice hard every day.”
Sidney enjoyed historic levels of success between the 2012-13 season and 2015-16, thanks in large part to post players Sylvia Hudson and Celena Taborn, who are now playing collegiately at Urbana University and Furman, respectively. The squad won two conference titles and at least 14 games each season in that five-year stretch.
After Taborn graduated in 2016 and coach Megan Mummey left to take a job at Wittenberg, the program floundered the last two seasons under coach Lauren Stefancin. The Yellow Jackets lacked experience, size and talent in 2016-17 and finished 2-21, then followed with a winless season last year.
Stefancin resigned following the season, and Foster, a former Sidney star, was hired last spring to help revamp the program and guide an incoming freshman class that finished 15-2 and 14-2 as eighth and seventh graders, respectively.
Foster has been trying to temper those with too-high expectations for the team this year. But the Yellow Jackets’ start has made them the frontrunners in the MVL Valley Division.
Sidney is in first place in the Valley Division and has a two-game lead over second-place Fairborn, which is 2-5 overall and 2-3 in league play. West Carrollton (1-5, 1-4) is in third place while Stebbins (1-5, 0-4) and Xenia (0-6, 0-5) are winless in league play.
The Yellow Jackets proved last Saturday they’re capable of playing with the league’s best, too. Sidney held two fourth-quarter leads but fell 53-51 at Vandalia-Butler, which is tied with Tippecanoe for first place in the MVL Miami Division. Both squads are 5-0 in league play.
Junior forward Samantha Reynolds, who is one of the team’s returning starters, said there’s a night-and-day difference between this season and the last two years.
“It feels great. I’m glad we’re winning this year,” Reynolds, who is averaging 8.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, said. “I’m glad a lot of girls are scoring. …We’re all playing together really well and playing team ball.”
Reynolds was also quick to credit the team’s two star freshmen for leading the difference: Stockton and Brewer.
“They’re really good,” Reynolds said. “They’re really good ball handlers.”
Stockton has already garnered collegiate recruiting interest through her play for Ohio Elite AAU. She’s 5-foot-10 and already has better handling and shooting skills than many seniors according to Foster. She’s been a force so far this season and is averaging 18.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.1 steals, 2.9 assists and two blocks per game.
Brewer, the team’s starting point guard, also plays much better than most seniors according to Foster and is a defensive force due to her speed. She’s averaging 9.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 steals and 3.4 assists per game.
“Still being a freshman, she’s got to realize not every quarter is going to be a good quarter,” Foster said of Brewer. “Once she gets out of her own head, she really establishes what we can do on both ends of the floor. When she’s going and defending at a high level and getting the ball into the lane, we’re a different team.”
Though the two freshmen have provided an instant boost to the program, Foster said every player has shown improvement since beginning workouts last spring. Aside from Reynolds, sophomore Peyton Wiley and Kelsey Kizer have emerged as consistent scoring threats. Wiley is averaging six points per game and Kizer is averaging five points per game.
“It’s been a positive experience for everyone I think,” Foster said. “It’s no easy coming in and trusting someone you don’t know. The girls have been coachable and have been taking in what we’re saying. The results speak for themselves.”
One of the biggest differences has been the tempo the team plays at. Foster has implemented a system that relies on speed, steals and transition points.
“We run a lot in practice,” Reynolds said. “It’s tough, but it gets us ready for games.”
Stockton scored Sidney’s first 10 points on Tuesday and helped the team take a 10-5 lead. Xenia battled back to pull within 15-12, but the Yellow Jackets got hot again on the offensive end late in the second quarter and took a 27-19 by halftime.
The squad pulled away fast in the third quarter. Though Stockton missed most of the quarter after falling hard on the floor, Brewer, Kizer, Reynolds and Cassidy Truesdale combined to score 22 of the team’s 24 points in the quarter and help boost the lead to 51-33 heading into the fourth.
“When (Stockton) got a little banged up in that third quarter, her teammates picked her up,” Foster said. “We didn’t stop, and that’s what we want to do, have that ‘next man up’ mentality and have all eight or nine players in our rotation to be able to pick up everybody.”
Stockton scored five points in the fourth, and five other players scored to help lead a 21-15 scoring advantage in the quarter.
Stockton and Brewer sat the bench for most of the fourth and along with the rest of the starters loudly cheered on bench players.
“We’re trying to change the culture around here where everybody practices hard, everybody shows up and has great attendance,” Foster said. “To see (our bench players) come out and play with great intensity and (our starters) to cheer them on is great. From the first to the last, everybody is supporting each other.”
Stockton finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and six steals. Brewer scored 17 points (10 in the third quarter) and also had seven rebounds, six steals and five assists.
Kizer finished with nine points and four rebounds and Reynolds added eight points and five rebounds.
Sidney will try to close out a good first half of the season before the end of December. The Yellow Jackets will travel to Troy (4-4, 3-2) on Saturday and West Carrollton on Dec. 30.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.