When the Ironwood High girls’ basketball team took the court for the first time in regular summer practices, the players surrounding coach Jamie Fellows looked decidedly familiar.
There were no seniors on last year’s varsity. So, the entire roster, from starters to bench players, should be back barring injury or last-minute transfers.
Rather than an awkward first few days of introductions and the inevitable feeling-out process, the girls came in and got right to work.
“It was comforting, knowing everybody already and knowing how we all play,” senior guard Ilicia Zamorano said.
There is still plenty of room to improve.
Ironwood had an overall losing record last season, but still reached the 5A play-in round, losing to section rival Apollo to end the year. While ultimately a bit disappointed, the girls recognized 2018-19 as a solid step on the path to success.
There are still several months before the team can don their varsity uniforms in a regular-season game to capture redemption, but since last season ended, discussions have gone on between the players about how much better they can be.
“We talked about how we were going to grow together all the way to the next season, and I think a lot of us are excited,” junior forward Jessica Kessler-Kline said.
Before Fellows joined the staff for her first season last year, the Eagles had two coaches in one season, and were in a state of flux.
Now, Fellows is in her second year, and has begun to establish more of a steady culture around the team, making its members feel like they understand the program’s direction.
“Last year was a building season. We have one system, one focus. It was a learning experience and now we want to start putting it all together,” Fellows said.
Due to a few injuries, summer trips, and a player or two playing with other nonschool-related teams to further their college recruitment, Ironwood has not been able to see its full roster on display in June. Thus, nobody knows exactly how the group will look come October.
Meanwhile, role players and junior varsity contributors have had the chance to play more varsity minutes in summer competitions, without the pressure of playoffs or wins and losses meaning anything other than bragging rights or lessons to build on.
“We’re able to focus more on the future of the program than the present. It gives me a chance to focus on being here a long time and developing the team for the years to come,” Fellows said.
“You can see how some kids play together on the court, or how a certain kid does in a different position without it impacting wins and losses when we’re trying to get to state.”
While a major goal of this season is to improve upon last year’s record with another year of training and growth under their belts, wins and losses will not define this season.
Finally with some continuity, Fellows and her staff hope to use the remainder of this summer and the 2019-20 campaign to grow the culture at Ironwood, setting the standard for years to come.
“I want to be here forever. And I want to see the program grow as much as we can while I am here,” Fellows said.