TOLEDO — The Toledo Girls basketball team will look a lot different this upcoming season, which is weird to say for a squad that returns 10 of 12 players from a year ago.
But it’s the truth, and the Indians will have some big shoes to fill with the departure of do-it-all graduate Kal Schaplow who is now playing basketball and track and field for Eastern Washington University. Also graduated is Alejandra Cadarso. Schaplow, the Central 2B League MVP, was an Associated Press first-team all-state selection after averaging 17 points and five rebounds a game.
“It will be a lot different not having her as the backbone of the team, but I think if we put in the time we’ll be OK,” junior wing Marina Smith said.
Instead of having Schaplow as the main offensive focus, the Indians will now use their deep roster of 10 returning varsity players and four starters to create a new offensive look, one that coach Brian Layton says will be predicated on balance.
“I think we could have eight or nine girls scoring and a different leading scorer every night,” Layton said. “We’re really excited. These girls, I think they’re hungry. They’ve been showing up to practice and they’re ready to get going.”’
And these aren’t just varsity participants, these are battle-tested girls who fell one game shy of a state trophy after going 1-2 at the 2B state tournament in March. The Indians were the county’s final 2B team, boys or girls, left standing at the end of the season. They went 23-6 overall, capturing the C2BL championship and finishing third at the district tournament. It was their best season since placing eighth in the Class 1A tournament in 2009.
But on Tuesday, it was back to business in the gym for the Indians who saw their summer basketball schedule slashed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WIAA updated its return-to-play guidelines on Oct. 6, allowing teams in high-risk counties, which Lewis County is currently in, to practice in groups of six with brief, close contact three-on-three drills. The Indians are now working out in two different practice sessions each night in groups of six in preparation for a tentative basketball season this winter.
“It was good just to be around each other, interact with each other and they seem to be excited to be back,” Layton said. “It’s a nice release from what’s going on and everything. We’re just trying to be as careful as we can, have fun and get better.”
It was a long summer for all high school athletes as most camps and tournaments were cancelled due to the pandemic. The Indians were able to have a few team workouts within regulations, but the team was without its annual slate of summer ball, which includes traveling to tournaments and camps at college campuses. It’s a crucial time not only for development but also team bonding.
“At team camps, even off the court, we’re hanging out all week together,” senior Stacie Spahr said. “So we lost a lot of team bonding time. Obviously we can do stuff now, but there’s a lot of restrictions.”
Spahr, a 6-foot post, was the team’s top rebounder and second-leading scorer last season and recently received an offer to play at Pacific Lutheran University. She said it’s been a relief being able to get back in the gym with her teammates after such a long playing drought.
“It’s awesome,” Spahr said. “We haven’t been back in the gym for six months. It’s good to get back in and get a sweat going. Even though the season isn’t for a while, it’s good to get prepared and touch a ball.”
Missing out on team camps and tournaments this summer not only hampered the development of the players, Layton said, but also prevented him from seeing how his new team will operate offensively, especially with the newcomers and underclassmen.
The freshmen and underclassmen are split up together in a separate practice from the returning varsity girls, which prevents them from learning from and connecting with the veteran upperclassmen, Spahr said. She did point to one newcomer, however, who could make an impact on the team this year: Stephie Arceo-Hansen.
“She plays with her older brothers (Fano and Carlos Arceo-Hansen) and she’s had a lot of time in the gym,” Spahr said. “She’s also really competitive.”
For Layton, he’s excited to have the team working out together in some capacity, even if it’s not all together. With so many girls returning, he’s optimistic the team will be able to overcome the hurdles they faced this summer.
“They’re a close-knit group and they want to do well,” Layton said. “We know the league will be tough again and I think there will be a lot more parity this year than in the past. So it will be tough but hopefully we’ll get the chance to compete.”