DAVENPORT, Iowa – Susan Orvis was given two weeks of practice to prepare a youth-laden Muscatine girls basketball team for a daunting stretch of mostly road games to begin this year’s season.
A week in, she’s been pleased with what she’s seen but understands that with only two seniors and three juniors growing pains will be inevitable.
“We’ve got a wave of sophomores and a big freshman class that’s joining us this year,” Orvis said at Friday’s Mississippi Athletic Conference Girls Basketball Luncheon at the Davenport River Center. “We’re excited about their talent level, they’ve come up through our youth program, and we’re starting fundamentally in a place where we haven’t started collectively maybe since I’ve been in Muscatine.”
Sharing a similar philosophy to the one Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon established upon taking control of a talented but inexperienced baseball club three years ago, Orvis, a lifelong Cubs fan, preached the importance of patience.
“We have to grow up and we have to get acclimated and we have to figure things out,” Orvis said. “When you have lower numbers, the benefit of that is we’re going to get reps in practice and we’re going to get a lot of minutes.
“We’re excited about those opportunities, but we know with that is going to probably come some of those lessons and growing pains. But we’re excited to embrace them, we’re excited about the leadership in place, and I’m excited with what I’ve seen as we’ve mixed these pieces together in the first four days. I think they’re going to come together really nicely over the course of the season.”
With the team’s first game scheduled for Nov. 21 on the road against Prairie − four of Muscatine’s first five games are away − Orvis’ first order of business has been getting all the newcomers acclimated to the team’s practice environment.
The nine-year head coach has a pair of senior leaders in Tessa Kerr and Paige Miller on hand to help ease that transition.
“The few upperclassmen we have, starting with (Miller and Kerr), they fully understand what is expected in our program,” Orvis said. “They are our true leaders, they’re going to set the tone every day. They know our culture, they know what we want to do and they’re going to drive that.
“… Half the time in practice when things aren’t going well, we need to make an adjustment, they’re on it before I ever have to address it.”
Kerr was Muscatine’s third-leading scorer a year ago on a team that finished 10-13, averaging 6.2 points per game while also leading the Muskies in rebounds with 93.
Miller, a point guard who averaged 2.9 points per game as a junior, was second on the team in assists with 29 and collected 16 steals.
“Definitely creating a positive energy during practices is the main thing, just creating a strong environment,” Miller said about the focus of this first week of practices. “ … We have to squeeze everything into this small period of time, but we’ll get there.”
In addition to Kerr and Miller, Muscatine also returns its second-leading scorer from last year, Macey Rogers, who averaged 8.2 points per game.
So while it remains to be seen how all of Muscatine’s new pieces will fit together with the upperclassmen, there hasn’t been a shortage of confidence as the team gears up for a new basketball season.
“We need to really work on meshing together and working together,” Kerr said. “That’s probably the most important part, the things that come on the court, like the unity. We’ll fit it in before game time.”