EVANSTON — For the Evanston High School girls’ basketball team, the 2019-20 season is off to a roller-coaster start, though players and coaches are hoping the team will stay at its current apex to start the new year.
After finishing 0-3 at the season-opening RE/MAX Invitational in Gillette last month, the Lady Devils closed out 2019 in a big way the following weekend, going undefeated at the Flaming Gorge Classic in Green River and Rock Springs. Now gearing up for their first action of 2020 at this weekend’s Taco John’s Invitational in Cheyenne, the 3-3 Lady Devils will look to build on their early-season success.
“After a couple of weeks of practicing against yourselves, you get a little tired of each other,” said EHS head coach Jeremy Fessler. “You get a little antsy with each other. So the kids are looking forward to going against someone else for a change, for sure.”
The Lady Devils will have their work cut out for them, with games scheduled against top-ranked Cheyenne East (7-1), No. 3 Cheyenne Central (5-1) and a rematch against Cheyenne South (2-4), a team they beat 44-28 at the Flaming Gorge Invite.
“We know we have a tough row to hoe with No. 1 East and No. 3 Central,” Fessler said. “And we got Cheyenne South again, a team that kept it close with us until the end. So we have three tough games on their home floors — we’re looking at it as a measuring stick to see where we’re at with these top-tier teams in our league.”
Cheyenne East leads Class 4A in scoring, averaging 61.8 points per game, while holding their opponents to just 47.8 points on average. Lady Thunderbird senior Ky Buell is tops in all classes, averaging 20.1 points per game and leads the 4A East with five assists per contest.
Cheyenne Central is also scoring at a good clip, averaging 54.8 points per game and holding their opponents to 46.6 on average. The Lady Indians lead the 4A in team shooting, hitting on 42.2 percent of their field goals, and are led by senior Ellie Fearneyhough, averaging 12.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
“East and Central are very long, athletic and quick,” Fessler explained. “I know East is going to press us, so handling that pressure, which we struggled with that first weekend, is something we focused on over the break. Central runs a lot of pick-and-roll stuff, so how we defend that and how we take care of the ball will be key. I think it comes down to us being calm, taking care of the ball and getting into what we need to get into.”
The Lady Devils are led so far this season by senior Zocia Nowakowski, averaging 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Fellow seniors Amber Lowe and Taryn Wagstaff follow with 7.8 and 5.5 points, respectively; both players are always a threat from behind the arc, with four 3-pointers apiece. Guard play will be important this weekend, according to Fessler, and both Lowe and Wagstaff will be looked to for leadership.
“We just have to keep improving our guard play,” he said. “Wagstaff and Lowe — Maggie Moore is giving us good minutes. Mia Barker comes in and gives us great minutes off the bench. Stacia Barker and Zocia in the post are strong, and Tiana Pierce gives us what she has in the post. We’re still looking for one more guard and one more post to round out the rotation, so that we have some solid backups in case we get into foul trouble. We’re still trying to fill those roles right now.”
Fessler said offensively the team still has some work to do, but he was pleased with the improvement in scoring numbers from the first tournament in Gillette to the Flaming Gorge Classic.
“We spent a lot of time after the first tournament in practice getting the ball from the point guard to the wing or the high post,” he said. “Once we got the ball there, we did some good things. We’re getting better, but we’re still not quite where we need to be.”