By Mark Carpenter
The progress of a rebuilding basketball program is sometime measured in small steps, but in the eyes of West Union Lady Dragons head coach Jason Claytor, the 2013-14 season was some mighty big strides for his program. After winning just one game the previous year, the Lady Dragons finished the recent season at 6-16, which doesn’t sound all that good, but the coach continues to look at the positives.
“It is hard to look at a 6-16 season as a season of success, but I honestly feel that it was a success for us,” says Claytor. “It is a great building block for the future. With this being my first season as varsity coach and my first season coaching girls, I thought the girls did a nice job of adjusting to what I wanted them to do.”
“It was a learning curve for me. Looking back, there were times throughout the season, especially early, that I made a ton of mistakes.”
It was an even split for the Lady Dragons, winning three games in the Southern Hills Athletic Conference and three non-conference contests. One of those league wins was a definite high point for Claytor and the program.
“If I had to pick just one high point of the season, Said Claytor, it would have to be the first game we played against Eastern Brown in January.”
“That win was the first league win for West Union since 2011 and it had been a very long time since we had beaten an Eastern girls team. Getting that SHAC monkey off our back was huge for us. We had a couple of non-conference wins to that point, but it was almost like we had to get an SHAC win to legitimize that we were starting to get things turned around.”
A huge part of that turnaround was the play of senior Natasha Barr, who will go down in the books as one of the finest players ever to wear the Lady Dragons uniform. Barr’s list of accomplishments is impressive, beginning with her 16.5 points per game average for the 2013-14 campaign. Twice this season she scored 32 points in a game, which is the second all-time highest single game total in school history, and she also reached the coveted 1,000 point plateau in a Feb. 12 game against Blanchester.
Barr finished her high school career with 1,014 points, second in the school record books to the 1.034 of Jill Potts. She garnered a plethora of post-season honors, including All-SHAC, Third Team All-District by the District 14 Coaches Association, Second Team Associated Press All-Southeast District, and Honorable Mention Associated Press All-State.
Coach Claytor had the luxury of a nice one-two punch this season with the improved play of junior Taylor Martin. Martin had an outstanding year for the Lady Dragons, averaging 12.5 points a game along with 7.5 rebounds to lead the team in that category.
“Taylor had eight double double performances this season,” said Coach Claytor. “She had career highs in a January win over Whiteoak with 25 points and 16 rebounds.”
“She was also voted into the Top 100 Showcase at Denison University in April. The showcase is for the top 100 underclassmen in the state of Ohio and is voted on by the coaches of each district.”
Martin was also named Honorable Mention All-District by the District 14 Coaches Association and Special Mention Associated Press All-District.
Six wins was certainly an improvement for the team, but Claytor felt that number could have even been bigger.
“I do feel like we left some wins on the table,” said the West Union coach. “There were two or three games I can think of right off the top of my head that I feel we should have won, games that we were in but just couldn’t finish. I guess that is all a part of the growing and learning process that we went through this season.”
Besides Barr, the Lady Dragons bid farewell to another senior in Marci Schneider. Schneider provided much needed leadership to a young squad and contributed 3.6 points a game in 2013-14.
“Marci was a leader from day one,” says Claytor. “She always stepped up and did whatever I needed her to do. I loved the fact that her effort never faltered on the floor. When she stepped on the floor, she always gave 100%. I never had to worry about her effort. That maximum effort, whether it be in practice or games, allowed her to improve dramatically throughout the season.”
“The impact that Natasha has had on the Lady Dragons program will long be remembered because she has etched her name into the record books,” continued Coach Claytor. “I am glad that I could be a small part of her reaching her milestones. Her future is bright and I look forward to watching her play where ever she decides to play college basketball.”
“The seniors’ contributions to the program can not be totally put into words and they have left big shoes to fill.”
The Lady Dragons will have a core of players with varsity experience coming back next season, beginning with the junior guard combo of Kristen Grooms and Mikayla Akers. The two averaged 7 points a game between them this season and Claytor will be expecting both of them to step up next year. Senior-to-be CeCe Howard gave the team valuable minutes with her physical style of play, hauling in 4.5 rebounds per contest. Howard should combine on the inside with classmate Jessica Boldman to give the Lady Dragons a presence in the paint.
Also returning will be Lexie Hanes, Michelle Smith, and Michala Chaney, plus any members of the JV squad who improve enough to make the jump to varsity action.
“I think that we made great strides this season,” said Coach Claytor. “We were a lot better at the end of the season and I guess that is ultimately the goal. We were competitive for the most part and improved as the season progressed.”
Mark Carpenter can be reached at 937-544-2391 or on Twitter @adamscosports.