By Chris Chaney
Head coach Brad Hatfield said in the build-up to the 2013-14 season that the New Richmond Lady Lions were all in this year, “district championship or bust.”
Eight games in and undefeated thus far in the Southern Buckeye Conference’s American Division, the Lady Lions have proven to be the tall order their coach predicted, led head and shoulders by a player that Hatfield described as “simply the most dominant player in the league.”
Josie Buckingham, New Richmond’s 6-foot-5 center, is averaging 16.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game and those stats aren’t coming easily. The centerpiece of every team’s defensive game plan, Buckingham has matured into constant threat, avoiding foul trouble and keeping a cool head as teams try their best to frustrate her.
“It’s been like that for three years,” Hatfield said of opposing teams’ attempts to shut her down. “She’s used to it. Everyday in practice, we put two or three people on her. She doesn’t get frustrated or let it bother her, she just goes about her business.”
Buckingham going about her business has been made slightly easier this year with the supporting cast that the Lady Lions run out. In particular, the evolution and maturation of sophomore point guard Maren Hance has not only lightened Buckingham’s load, but also the load of the other three players on the floor as well.
“(Hance)’s basketball IQ has increased dramatically,” Hatfield said. “She went from, as a freshmen, being a very good athlete and very good basketball player that could be ineffective at times, to this year, we’re unpressable as a team and it’s all because of her.”
Hance has stepped in as scoring option as well, going for over nine points a night. Along with Bailey Workman, the team’s coach on the floor, Alexis Meyer, an impact player who is seeing a lot more playing time, Tina Lawrence, a defender where scorers go to die, and Hannah Hall, a dynamic wing slasher, the Lady Lions have all the looks of a district champion-type team.
Even still, a month into the season is too early to count your chickens, Hatfield said. However, the team of destiny is already making headway in the record books. For the first time in Hatfield’s six seasons at the helm of the program, the Lady Lions swept their first five games in the league.
“This is the first time in a long time that we’ve started 5-0 in the league,” Hatfield explained. “I know it’s the first time since I’ve coached that we are in sole possession of first place.
“Last year we were 2-3 after going through the league the first time, so we were coming from behind the whole time. It’s definitely good to be in the driver’s seat.”
The Lady Lions, who are finished playing in 2013, have just under a month between conference opponents and Hatfield said he is expecting the conference games that will act as the home stretch of the season to be even more difficult than the first go-round.
“We’ll play Norwood at full strength the second time around, same with Bethel,” he said. “Western Brown will definitely give us a game and Goshen gave us a game, so knowing how strong the division is, that 5-0 start will be pretty crucial.”
Hatfield said he hopes to use the non-conference games to shore up some loose ends, becoming more well rounded offensively and staying out of foul trouble on the defensive end.
New Richmond will get back on the court on Jan. 2 when they host Clermont Northeastern and then will play their next four games on the road versus Reading, Batavia, Roger Bacon and Ripley-Union. The Lady Lions play one more out-of-conference game against Georgetown before traveling to Bethel on Jan. 18 to start the second run through the SBC-American.