The girls basketball season couldn’t arrive fast enough for Birmingham Seaholm head coach January Hladki and her squad.
Led by a talented group of juniors, including gifted all-star point guard Mackenze Harbort, the Maples have high hopes for the 2015-16 campaign. They showed their potential with a nice 62-46 OAA crossover triumph Tuesday over Troy Athens on their home court.
“You cannot pick a more excited person in Oakland County than what I am,” Hladki said following the 16-point triumph. “We have been waiting for this game, the kids have been waiting for this game; it’s like Christmas today. The kids just wanted to open the present and get on the floor.
“Our assistant coach, Tom Faylor, put in a lot of work to have everybody have these warmups for every single team,” she added. “We have a new set of uniforms. We just have a new identity and we’re ready to win.”
Harbort, who burst onto the prep scene as a freshman scoring sensation and helped lead the Maples to the OAA Blue title, and her teammates enter this season with a vast amount of experience and a tremendous amount of optimism.
Seaholm has seven returning players from last year’s squad, which finished 10-10 and placed third in the OAA Blue with a 6-4 mark.
Starts with Harbort
The list, of course, begins with Harbort, who figures to once again be the team’s leading scorer. Harbort averaged 17.3 points per game as a freshman and last year hiked the average 19. She is a scoring threat driving to the hoop or beyond the arc, which makes her a hard player to defend.
Harbort, who is definitely high on college recruit lists, began the season on a strong note with a team-high 23 points against the Red Hawks, including nine field goals and a 5-of-7 effort from the free-throw line.
“Mackenzie is an incredible athlete. We need to use her speed and quickness to make our offensive sets work,” Hladki said. “You can see her ball-handling skills are absolutely incredible.
“We’ve really been working on her both reading the floor and her penetration to the basket. As a freshman, she was one of our leading 3-point shooters. Everyone now knows who she is, so she’s added another layer to her game.
“She is an extremely coachable kids and loves the game,” she added. “So we just keep throwing a lot of things at her. She’s getting offers from D-I and D-II schools, so we’ll see where it plays out.”
What makes Hladki particularly pleased about this year’s team is she believes the Maples have ample support for Harbort. If teams choose to double-team Harbort, Seaholm has some other offensive weapons.
Senior guard and captain Sima Succar, along with juniors Caroline Owens, Dana Hoerman and captain Paige Hartwig, are all capable of a big scoring night.
Against Athens, for instance, Owens chipped in 14 points while Succar finished with nine and Hoerman seven. Hoerman, a 6-0 center, Hartwig, a 5-8 forward, and Audrey Anton, a 5-10 junior forward, will all be counted on to handle rebounding duties.
“Sima has really stepped up her game and has really grown, Hladki said. “We just needed to get her to settle down from last year to this year and be able to have confidence in her ball-handling skills.
“Sima has worked hours this summer with my assistant coach, Josh Young, to really develop her left hand more because we need her to feel confident out there when there is so much pressure on Mackenzie,” she added. “She’s also worked on her shooting and her whole game was been elevated.”
Hladki said Hoerman is a key Seaholm starter who will have to be an inside presence at both ends of the floor.
“Dana is strong, has good hands and really likes to shoot the 15- to 17-foot jumper,” Hladki said. “But we like to have her on the block with her back to the basket. So we’re trying to do some things with her as well.”
Chasing Blue title
Owens is another player who will have to play a strong support role in picking up the scoring slack.
“We need people to be the hurt in the offense if people take Mackenzie or Dana out of the offense and Caroline is one of those players,” Hladki said. “She will be one of those big support players for us this year.”
The Maples harbor serious thoughts of reclaiming the OAA Blue Division crown, which they won two years ago. Hladki absolutely believes Seaholm will be in the thick of the race all season.
“This team loves to be in the gym and they love each other,” Hladki said. “They have a common sacrifice for whatever is going to make us win. They are fundamental workers and they are really smart kids.
“Their fundamentals have come a long way and they are an unselfish group. They want to know the systems of the game and they want to use that to win. They are a very coachable group. We have a list that we want to beat Groves and next is the division title.
“We’ve been talking about the Blue Division title since this summer and we’ve had a laser-like focus on what we need to do to get the job done,” she added. “And then we want to win a district title. It hasn’t happened since we started hosting a district some 20-plus years ago.”
OAA division alignments
The Oakland Activities Association is divided into four divisions for girls basketball. Following is the 2015-16 alignment:
RED: Rochester Adams; Clarkston; Farmington Harrison; Southfield-Lathrup; Oxford; Rochester Hills Stoney Creek.
WHITE: Bloomfield Hills; Lake Orion; North Farmington; Royal Oak; Troy; West Bloomfield.
BLUE: Auburn Hills Avondale; Farmington; Oak Park; Rochester; Birmingham Seaholm; Southfield.
GOLD: Troy Athens; Berkley; Ferndale; Birmingham Groves; Hazel Park; Pontiac.