DAYTON — The Belmont High School girls basketball team has created a bit of a buzz with five wins in six games. The Bison realize the season is still young, but they’re still happy to be part of the conversation.
The Bison are off to a 5-1 start and have established themselves as City League contenders at 2-1. As far as Belmont coach Grant Clark can recall, no girls team has ever won a City title. This group — led by two seniors and loaded with juniors — wants to be the ones to change that.
“We’re always the underdogs, now we’re the people on top,” said senior forward Tianisha Payne. “It’s challenging. We don’t want to be boastful about it because it’s hard to accept we’re on top. The school is so used to being down. Once you feel that pride you don’t want to be too boastful.”
Still, Belmont has reason to cheer. The Bison are off to their best start under Clark in his seven seasons. Last season’s 3-0 start ended in an 11-10 record. Varsity experience, depth and a fresh attitude could help challenge the season-high 13 wins under Clark a few years back. That’s a lofty goal for a team with little height. At 5-foot-8-inches, senior forward India Beavers is the tallest player on the roster.
That’s okay. The Bison are still playing large despite suffering its first loss, a 65-54 setback to league foe Meadowdale on Thursday. But even in that the Bison found a positive. After falling behind 19-4 after one quarter, Belmont won the next three.
“You must believe you can. Whatever circumstances are before you, you believe you can overcome that hurdle,” Clark said. “I think they are starting to believe a little bit.”
Payne is proof. Clark preaches the three Ds of desire, dedication and determination. His mantra is Whose Next?, as in taking the season one team at a time and not worrying about what’s ahead. Payne’s schedule hanging on the refrigerator is folded so she can see one team at a time. Before Thursday that team was Meadowdale. The team after that?
“Honestly, no idea,” Payne said of playing Miami Valley on Monday.
Belmont hopes teams remember them, though. A high-pressure defense forced 19 steals in a win over Northridge. Seniors Shamika Harris, Beavers and Payne provide the leadership and are complemented by strong cast of juniors including Jeannette Young, Kristan Packnett, Ka’llen Wood, Chellvie Brooks and Ileaha Chandler.
“I was hoping we would have a great season, but I wasn’t thinking we’d go 5-0,” said Young, who started playing varsity five games into her freshman season. “Coach Clark and the rest of the coaches (assistants Jackie Fails and Larry Barnes) have brought us all together. We try to be a family both on and off the court. … We never think about who scores the most. Never. When we score, everybody on the team scores. It’s not one person on the court. That’s what we always think.”
That’s another change from last season. Teamwork has replaced team drama.
“It wasn’t easy,” Clark said. “I said to myself as a coach, ‘I’m not going to deal with it.’ I’ve had to send a couple home, a couple have gone home and a couple have come back and taken their consequences. When you’re winning that takes care of a lot of the problems, also.”
Belmont’s upcoming schedule — not that they’re looking that far ahead — includes City League foe Marshall on Jan. 3 and a couple Greater Western Ohio Conference challenges in Xenia and Wayne in early January. This is what Clark and the Bison have been building toward.
“Practices are lot more tougher than they were my freshman year,” Young said. “If he didn’t care he wouldn’t push us so hard. … We want to put something new up on the wall (with a banner). We just gotta keep working hard.”
Added Clark: “We know we’re not there yet. But we’re feeling better at this point of the stage than last year.”