By Nicholas Johnson, For the Report
WEST CHESTER TWP. — Something special is brewing on the hardwood of Lakota West High School’s gymnasium.
At roughly the midway point of the girls basketball season, the Lakota West Firebirds — led by coach Andy Fishman — are sitting with a record of 11-6 overall and 8-3 in the Greater Miami Conference.
One of the biggest stories you will find with this team, however, is not the record, but just who exactly is on the roster. The Firebirds currently hold four freshmen on their varsity roster — differing from the majority of programs in the area.
Katie Fox, Caroline Bayliff, Sydney Williams and Jayda Neilson have been a consistent force on the floor this season. All four have had consistent playing time and play a large role both on and off the court.
When given the opportunity to sit down with Fishman, it was clear that he felt all of these players have been key factors to the team’s success this year. When talking about all four of those players, he had nothing but positive things to say.
One of the key difference makers this season has been Fox, a 5-foot-10 guard.
Fox is what “makes this team go” and “is on track to be one of the top talents I have worked with in my time at West,” Fishman said.
In all aspects of the game, Fox is a force to be reckoned with on the floor. Fishman made it clear that no matter where she is on the court, she “scores well and passes extremely well” — which can make a large difference in a game’s final score.
Said Fishman, “she is really easy to coach,” which he feels is one of Fox’s best basketball qualities moving forward.
Showing up on days off, watching film and putting in work whenever she can, the talented Fox has shown that she is capable and determined to play a huge role in the long term success of this program.
As far as chemistry goes, Fox also seems to be one of many great personalities on this team who “always has a great demeanor,” Fishman said.
When taking a look at Caroline Bayliff and Sydney Williams, Fishman was quick to point out that while they are both phenomenal shooters, they each have very different mindsets in how they approach a game.
Bayliff, dubbed “The Ninja” by her teammates and coaches, is a very confident shooter — especially from beyond the arc. On top of being a “tough and physical player,” she also “always believes she can make her next shot,” Fishman said of Bayliff.
Fishman said Williams has tons of talent shooting the ball as well.
“We work with her and encourage her a lot to shoot when open,” Fishman said of Williams. “She is one of our great shooters.”
Williams’ best performance yet came at home against Hamilton a few weeks ago, where she posted 20 points on the Big Blue. Williams has earned her nickname “The Assassin” from her ability to knock down shots from all over the floor.
Neilson has also been a notable name for the Firebirds, seizing all the opportunities she can to make a difference.
Neilson has been great all season at “making an immediate impact and scoring early (through the last game),” Fishman said.
Neilson’s early scoring — combined with rebounding, allows her to take advantage of her opportunities. She filled in for an injured starter and fought to earn a couple more appearances in the starting five as of late.
In fact, she just had a season-high 27 minutes in the Firebird’s matchup against Middletown on Jan. 7.
As far as the whole team goes, Fishman gave loads of credit to the juniors (Lily Johnson, Madison Parker, and Kelsey Rolling) and seniors on this team for helping make the team’s connection something special.
Johnson is a mainstay in the Firebird starting five leading the team in defensive touches. Even some of the girls who don’t get called as often are still very much of “high value” on and off the floor. Fishman said there are no “Sour Sallies” on the roster, and this team feeds off one another’s energy — something he is glad these freshmen have the opportunity to be around.
Fishman said he’s focusing on the current season for now, but believes there is a bright future ahead for this youthful team. He said the goal is to take the development of this team on a quarterly basis — working on creating the best team rather than focusing on their record.
Fishman currently views this team as “being on a climb,” in the process of getting to where it can be the most successful.
Regardless of how much youthful talent this team may have, Fishman said he proud of the seniors.
Fishman mentioned that he specifically wants success for the seniors on the team — Star Owens and Anna Wells.
“We will all be here next year, they will not be,” Fishman said. He said that it is the team’s goal to “have the best season possible for the seniors and make a deep tournament run.”
All in all, the team that Lakota West is building should be a fun one to watch, not just this season, but for many years to come.
Nicholas Johnson is a Lakota West student who covers Firebird athletics for The Report.
Butler County high school students interested in contributing content for the Butler County High School Sports Report, please email editor Chris Vogt at [email protected] for information.