The Mendon girls basketball team begins its St. Joseph Valley League championship defense at home Tuesday against Union City with four returning starters. Hornets 20th-year head coach Leasa Griffith’s squad finished 19-2 overall and 6-0 in the conference in 2012-13.
Seniors Brooke Howard (forward), Jenna Griffith (guard), Alexis Russell (forward/center) and Grace Leighton (guard) lead the charge this winter. Howard is the reigning SJV most valuable player and was an all-state selection last season after averaging 18.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, one block, 2.8 steals and 2.7 assists per game.
“She will help handle the ball and has become a versatile inside/out player,” Griffith said of Howard, a four-year starter who climbed over 1,000 career points last year. “We will certainly look to her to pick up where she left off at the end of last season.”
Griffith, Russell and Leighton all made the All-SJV team after combining for just over 20 points per contest. Russell was second on the team with 5.7 rebounds and also averaged a block per outing. Griffith notched a team-high 87 steals and 95 assists. Leighton’s well-rounded production included 52 boards, 50 steals and 33 assists.
Seniors Cierra Furlong (center/forward), Samantha Griffith (guard), Lauren Samson (forward) and Danielle Parsons (guard), and junior forward Rachel Frisbie and junior guard Jackie Friel round out the veteran group.
“Our team goals for this year are much like last year,” said Leasa Griffith, who was voted the Associated Press Class D Coach of the Year last season. “We want to improve our game daily, whether it is at practice or a game, so we are at the peak of our game at tournament time. We would like to finish out the last year of the SJV at the top of the league, and we would like to go far in the postseason tourney.”
Mendon lost in the district semifinals to Athens, which advanced to the state quarterfinals, in overtime and will try to advance deeper this spring in Class C.
The Hornets shot 42 percent from the field (378-for-903) and 38 percent from deep (46-for-121). Griffith knocked down 33 of those triples and finished the year as a 40-percent marksman from behind the arc and was third in the MHSAA 3-point shooting contest. The team also hit 222 of 368 free throws (60 percent) en route to 48.8 points per game. Mendon outscored its opponents 1,024-514 for the year.
“With so many seniors on the team, we know each other very well,” Griffith added. “We communicate well, and we are all focused on the same goals. The chemistry will improve each day. Offensively we are looking to push the ball a little more than we did last year, but we have no problem slowing things down and running a set offense.
“Defensively we will work on changing things up with each team that we face to specifically address the opponent’s strengths. We have a pretty quick team, so we are hoping to press more this year as well.”