By Matthew Yoder
Tuned to the hum of basketballs reverberating on wood, the Chincoteague girls officially took to the court for the first time this season on Monday, working through their rust in full-length outlet drills and jump shots. The Ponies had an encouraging turnout on the first day of practice, with more than 20 girls excitedly filling the gym. Though they are returning four starters, the Ponies face the challenge of replacing an irreplaceable talent in guard Caroline Thornton. She filled the stat sheets last season, averaging more than 20 points per game, a number that is difficult to overlook and provided intangibles at such a key position on the court.
Coach Jimmy Bloxom recognizes the many skills Thornton displayed and is realistic in assessing what it takes to replace such a player.
“I gotta get a guard, it’s hard to replace Thornton and we’ve got to find other ways to score,” said Bloxom.
Beyond scoring, he recognizes the need for somebody to effectively move the ball up court and for his team, likewise, to pressure in defensive transition. Bloxom sees these as keys to victory.
“It’s all about handling full-court pressure,” Bloxom said. “If you wanna build a lead then you have to try to pressure the other team and force turnovers.”
If the Ponies are successful in making their opponents defend the half-court game, they will play to their strengths this year, size and grit.
Bloxom undeniably sees this as an asset for this year’s squad.
“I’ve got bigs, we’ll be scrappy,” said Bloxom.
The team is filled with distinguished talent from this year’s district champion volleyball team. Alanna Hall, Emma Jackson, and Caroline Shelley made significant contributions to that team, with Shelley and Jackson commanding respect at the net. The goal is to do the same at the rim, and they will be assisted by Lindsey O’Shea, a freshman with tremendous height.
“We will be just as tall as anybody in the gym, we shouldn’t get beat on the boards,” said Bloxom.
In addition to Hall, Jackson, and Shelley, Bethany Fosque is the fourth returning starter to a very successful Pony team from a year ago. Though these Ponies played significant minutes, Bloxom still thinks his team lacks experience in tight games.
“They’re just a little green in how much they played. I want to see how they handle the pressure,” said Bloxom.
A lot of games will unquestionably be decided by which team executes the fundamentals best.
“If you make layups and foul shots you can stay competitive,” Bloxom said.
Both aspects were addressed heavily on this first day of practice. They are a team with strength in numbers, built to compete now and for years to come. Bloxom does not believe they are a team that will create space from opponents, but is still optimistic for the upcoming season. He appears quite adept at getting the best out of these kids, and if this year opponents sleep on the Ponies after losing Thornton, Bloxom is confident his squad will again reassert its will.
“I don’t have four 20-point scorers, but every kid has a niche, a role,” said Bloxom.
The Ponies have established a winning atmosphere, and in doing so have raised the attention of other local teams.
“We aren’t going to sneak up on anybody. We’re in the crosshairs now,” said Bloxom.