The confident ’Cats of Nitro
There is something that permeates the Nitro lineup this season that has been missing for some time.
"Everyone's confidence is building and keeps building,'' said junior point guard Savannah Shamblin. "Everybody's contributing and doing what they're supposed to do. People are seeing results. Now people are starting to believe it.''
The Wildcats have indeed made believers out of every opponent so far this season, racing to a 10-0 start and rising to sixth in Monday's Associated Press Class AAA poll.
That's new territory for these Wildcats, who posted double-digit wins (10-12) last year for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Nitro had back-to-back three-win seasons during that span.
"Confidence,'' said second-year coach Will Samuel of the difference in attitude this year. "In preseason I said, 'Girls, we have a shot of rolling off some games.' I could tell early on we've looked pretty good. I knew we had the potential to do it. Here we are.''
"He told us our chances were looking pretty good and that made people excited,'' Shamblin said of Samuel's optimism. "We worked harder in practice and when we started playing games [our team] realized, 'Wow, it's real.'"
Another boost to the Nitro program has been the consistency at the head coaching position and in the lineup. After 2008-09, the Wildcats went through four coaches with Samuel the first to return for the following season. And Nitro welcomed back four starters from last season.
"We basically have everyone back in the same system,'' Samuel said. "This is the first year we haven't had to put in all new plays. The first couple of days we started pounding in how we wanted to play. We didn't have to teach the X's and O's all over again.''
The 5-foot-5 Shamblin has been the one constant, though, averaging 21.6 points per game, third in the rugged Mountain State Athletic Conference. And now the other aspects of Shamblin's floor game are starting to blossom.
"We run everything through her, but also she believes in her teammates," Samuel said. "Now that her teammates are seeing that they're more active. Their confidence is going through the roof and they're starting to score and take the ball to the basket.''
Junior forward Tiffany Reavis, a transfer from Capital, has bolstered the interior with 9.7 points and nearly double-digit rebounds per game. Samuel and Shamblin agree that Reavis' emergence on the blocks has changed the way the Wildcats play.
"What we didn't have last year was rebounding,'' Samuel said. "We were just killed on the glass. [Reavis has] shored that up for us. She's getting better every game. She's playing smart and staying out of foul trouble and still playing strong down low. It's a big plus.''
"It's a tremendous help,'' added Shamblin. "She's on the glass all the time. She's tremendous. She's improved her post moves a lot.''
Senior center Halie Miller and junior guard Hannah Linville have each contributed three double-figure scoring games, and freshman guard Bethany Linville has two double-digit performances. And in Nitro's 73-49 win Saturday over Parkersburg, senior guard Bethany Hill tallied 18 points.
"More people are starting to get involved in all the games,'' Shamblin said. "I'm getting people involved. It's lot of help. It takes attention away from me. I'm not the only one [opponents] have to worry about stopping. Not as many [double-teams].
"We're making shots now. If [opponents] box-and-one on me, they're leaving someone open to shoot and they've got to get out of it. It makes me feel better about my team.''
The Wildcats' schedule does get increasingly harder with seven of its next nine against teams with winning records.
"This is all scrimmages until sectionals,'' said Samuel. "We have a very tough sectional and regional so we just have to try and get better. We have a lot of room to improve.''
"We have our goal set 12-0 right now,'' Shamblin said. "That would be a really good start.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.