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buffalo wyant

Buffalo’s Lilly Wyant had 12 points and 10 rebounds in the Bison’s narrow loss to Charleston Catholic on Wednesday.

BUFFALO — A core group of four seniors came into the girls basketball season looking for one more win than Buffalo was able to lock down a year ago.

Perhaps it’s a few more regular-season losses this season that will allow that to happen.

Bison coach Mike Kelly purposely strengthened his team’s schedule this season, including seven games against teams from higher classifications. So far, that slate has been met with mixed results in a 3-5 start.

But in a 34-33 loss at home against Charleston Catholic on Wednesday, the feeling around Buffalo’s program is that important progress was made.

“The intensity they had tonight, we need that every game,” Kelly said. “They’re all good leaders. They’re all good kids, very good kids and they want to win so bad. I believe tonight, the intensity, it will carry over.”

Wednesday’s game was a yardstick moment for the Bison as the Irish loom as a Class AA Region 4 Section 1 foe, with Poca rounding out the section. Last year, Catholic defeated the Bison in the sectional championship game, sending Buffalo on the road to Ravenswood for a regional co-final with the Red Devils prevailing 14-11.

While that loss left a bitter taste in the mouths of the team’s returners, it was also a point of pride as the Bison reached a point in the postseason it hadn’t in quite some time.

“It was amazing,” senior forward Lilly Wyant said. “Since freshman year, Coach Kelly has been telling us we could make it to regionals. We probably didn’t really believe him that much freshman year but last year showed us that we could do it.

“We are very determined. It was a big disappointment when we lost last year in the regional game.”

Wyant had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds on Wednesday and is a pivotal part of an experienced nucleus. Twins Abby and Katie Darnley as well as point guard Kaylee Bowling make up the senior group with junior Chloe Hale playing center and freshman Alivia Luikart coming along as a starter as well.

Within that group, the Bison seem to have a little bit of everything. Bowling is a plus ball-handler, passer and a nuisance at the top of Buffalo’s defense, both Wyant and Abby Darnley have the ability to work inside and outside with Hale altering shots in the middle.

The chemistry, especially between the four upperclassmen, is undeniable and could be an important part of the equation should the Bison get over the hump this year.

“It’s special getting to play with them,” Wyant said. “We played All-Stars together when we were in the fourth grade.”

Making the bond even more special is that the four convene athletically only for basketball season. Wyant is a volleyball player and is a thrower on the track team, finishing second in discus at the state meet. Abby Darnley is committed to play at Marshall while Katie Darnley is also a volleyball player. Bowling’s only sport is basketball.

“They’re a special bunch,” Kelly said. “I’ve had them since they were freshmen and they were kind of thrown into the fire.

“Their goal is to get to Charleston [for the state tournament]. Hopefully, I didn’t schedule us out of it.”

But with the path of more resistance comes weathering, toughness and, as Wyant said, lessons to be learned. She believes those will only play off when it matters in the postseason.

“We’ve been playing some pretty good teams, so that kind of reflects on our record so far,” Wyant said. “Coach Kelly mentioned on the first day of summer practice that he’d made the schedule harder. He told us we may not win every game and that’s how it goes, but it’s probably helped us grow more by losing games because when you lose, you learn.”

Wyant said she’s learned to control her defensive aggression as foul trouble plagued her early in the season. That wasn’t an issue on Wednesday, however, an example of the team learning from its mistakes.

And while Wednesday was another loss, both Kelly and Wyant agree it was a major step in the right direction.

“I hope they learn from this,” Kelly said. “I want them to play just like they did tonight.”

“I think we have to play the whole game like we have been the last quarter in games we’ve played,” Wyant added. “We have been playing a lot better recently, since Christmas break. We had two weeks to go through practices and not have to worry about that next game coming up. We had plenty of time to go over plays and learn to get more aggressive.”

Ryan Pritt covers WVU and prep sports. He can be reached at 304-348-7948 or ryan.pritt@hdmediallc.com. Follow him on Twitter @RPritt.