UTICA — The Utica High School varsity girls basketball team has gotten off to a fast start this season. Already a quarter of the way through their schedule, the Redskins sport a 4-1 record with their only loss coming Saturday to Mid-Buckeye Conference rival Loudonville.
Ask anyone on the team, and they would tell you how happy they are with their start even though they feel like one got away.
“We’ve gotten off to a great start,” said senior Abbie Corbett. “Obviously, I would have liked to have won on Saturday, but hopefully we’ll bounce back and get them next time. ... We’ve got a lot of seniors; we are very competitive. We want to prove people wrong, and we all want to win pretty bad.”
“We’ve had some tough games already,” said Utica coach Michelle Snow. “We started off with Heath, who was a district finalist last year, and then came back with Licking Valley, who always has a strong tradition. They always play real physical. Then we started into league play, and when you’re playing in your conference, everybody knows everybody so well that there are no nights off. ... If you would have asked me when the season started that we would be 4-1 going into the third week of the season, I would take it in a heartbeat. It was a tough loss against Loudonville; they are a quality team and we knew that going in.”
Coming into the season, even the Redskins themselves didn’t know what to expect. They returned five seniors, but had several younger players on the roster.
“We were really unsure. We didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Corbett. “Once we started coming together, we could see who could play and we started to realize what we are capable of.”
The five seniors have provided steady leadership and have been an anchor for the younger players to lean on. That, in Corbett’s mind, has been a big reason to the early success.
“We have more seniors and more leadership,” said Corbett. “We complement each other better than any other senior class has in recent years in our program. ... Leadership-wise, I feel a lot of pressure because of my position. If I say something, the younger players will react pretty quickly. I think they look up to me, but I am willing to take that.”
Corbett’s play hasn’t hurt either. Finally playing the point guard spot after two years as a shooting guard, Corbett is averaging 18 points a game, 8.2 assists, three steals and 6.4 rebounds. She is shooting 52.6 percent from three-point range and is shooting 52.3 percent from the field overall.
“You knew this was going to happen,” Snow said. “When she came in as a sophomore and started playing on varsity, you knew it was just a matter of time before she would step up. She had to sit behind Sierra Fletcher, and then she had to sit behind the Walkers — both Kaylee and Kandis. She has been waiting for her turn to take over, so to me this hasn’t been a big surprise. I’ve seen her potential.
“Everyone knows the kind of player she is. She is completely unselfish with the basketball. She will go out there and score when she needs to or get someone else in position to score. Defensively, 90 percent of the time she is where she is supposed to be. She is just a very good leader on the floor, along with our other seniors.”
Corbett, ever humble, has enjoyed the early success, which she says is more important than the personal statistics.
“The past few years, I’ve had to adjust to being a shooting guard,” Corbett said. “This year, it is a little more fun because I get to play the point. ... I’ve been able to score, but as a point guard, I expect more assists. It has just happened. I don’t really need to score. We crushed Licking Valley and I only had nine points. I just want to make the team better. That’s my job. Making my teammates better is more rewarding than any personal accomplishment.”
Snow has watched Corbett become the player she is today, mentoring her along the way. She is not surprised with the success she is having.
“She has developed well,” said Snow. “When I took over the program, she was in the eighth grade, and from that point until now, she has continually worked to get better. She has developed into, in my opinion, one of the top point guards in the conference and one of the top 10 players in the area.
“What makes her successful is the fact that she comes into my office everyday and asks, ‘What needs to get done?’ She takes the underclassmen under her wing, and she understands it takes more than one player to make a team. She understands that for us to be a successful program, it takes every member of that program and not just her or just the seniors. Not even just the varsity team. She looks at it from a coaching perspective in a way.
Corbett hopes to continue her playing career at the next level, though she has been flying under the radar a little bit. She made a campus visit to Denison University on Wednesday and liked what she saw.
“I want to play in college,” said Corbett. “I went and visited Denison, and to me, it seems like it would be a good fit. It would be great if I could go there and it works out. I’ve got some others schools I’m getting letters from, but the return interest from me has only been with Denison at the moment.”
Only time — and her team’s success — will tell if she gets her wish.