Low-key standouts Keithley, Hibner find high-energy youngsters all around them

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — When the Chillicothe High School Class of 2017 graduated, relegating the talented, large group of girls’ basketball players to the ranks of alumnae, some expected Lady Hornets’ basketball to slip back into the ranks of so-so programs, probably having winning seasons, but producing not much more than slightly-above-.500 season records.
Those who thought that have been proven wrong, with the two editions of Lady Hornets hoopsters since then producing a composite 37-17 mark and last year’s veterans-laden club posting 20 Ws and being denied a state-tournament appearance largely because it was in the same district as eventual state third-place finisher Trenton.
With three full-time starters – including all-district honoree and now junior-college player Kennedie Kieffer – and another occasional starter/top reserve from that club graduated and three other reserves who could have contributed to the 2019-20 squad – one a junior – opting not to play the sport this winter, some might anticipate the CHS girls losing some traction this winter.
Given the recent past, it would not seem prudent to count on it.
“We’re going to be fairly young – a freshman that’s going to play quite a bit, sophomores that are going to play quite a bit, and a couple of juniors that are going to play quite a bit, so the experience on the floor isn’t tremendously high, but, with the leadership I think we’ve got, I think we’ll be okay,” Smith shares in glancing ahead to the new season which is due to begin this coming Tuesday with a home game against Hamilton: Penney.
“We’re going to be more of a ‘5-out,’ motion-type (offensive approach). The big thing we’ve got to get to where we’re doing is not standing (still). Make the other team chase us, because we’re athletic enough and quick enough that we’ll be difficult to guard.”
“We’re just athletic and quick and long,” Smith further expands. “… If we need to ‘bang’ (play more physically) a little bit, (5’11” junior) Brooke Horton comes in. She did a good job, I thought, of ‘banging’ (in last Monday’s public intrasquad scrimmage) and showed her versatility, bringing the ball up the court. I think I can put five out at any time that can run the floor and bring the ball up the court and shoot the ball well.”
Despite the graduation and other personnel losses, this season’s basketball Lady Hornets will have two veteran, senior foundation piers to build upon with a half-dozen or so younger players who saw quite a bit of playing time a year ago and a promising freshman, as well.
Versatile guard/forward Hunter Keithley and record-setting shooting guard Jordan Hibner will be the bedrocks of the ’19-’20 CHS club – the former a multi-dimensional third-year starter who played extensively as a reserve late in her freshman year and the latter a perimeter sniper who broke the program’s quarter-century-old record for 3-points baskets made last season.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Smith unhesitatingly replied when asked if having two all-district and all-Midland Empire Conference players to fill in around puts his team in an advantageous spot, “and they’re leading this team. In practice, they’re doing all of the little things that we want to show these younger girls.”
As a junior on a well-balanced squad, the 5’10” Keithley led CHS in scoring a dozen occasions last year, averaging a team-best 11.8 points per game while shooting 80 percent from the foul line and 42 percent outside the arc. At different times, she hurt opponents with outside shooting, driving scores, and even posting up, in addition to the precise free-throw marksmanship.
Hibner was the Lady Hornets’ top scorer in six of their seven games last year, including draining a CHS single-game record seven treys and netting a team season-best 25 points in a mid-December victory over what became an outstanding Marshall squad, before foes got hip to knowing they could not give her room to shoot from deep. She added a seventh occasion of being CHS’ leading scorer in late January and, with her final basket of the season, knocked down her 71st triple of the year, eclipsing the former Lady Hornets’ standard established by Rochelle Barrett in 1994-95. Hibner finished with a scoring average of 9.2 points and led the club with 1.3 steals a game and 62 percent adjusted field-goal percentage (43 percent outside the 3-points line).
The biggest question mark about that duo – particularly Keithley – is whether they will be selfish enough to help their younger teammates.
“That’ll be key for us, to be honest,” Smith candidly confirms, “is they’re going to have to look for theirs (shots and scoring chances).”
However, the duo’s overall skill, experience, and willingness to help their teammates flourish makes any small worry about their being ready to shoulder extra load early is minimal.
“We’re a long way from being where we need to be, but just seeing the floor the way they do is going to help us get the other girls the ball in the right spots” to prosper, the coach says of the pair of proven senior standouts.
While, assuming good health, the low-key Hibner-Keithley tandem’s contributions figure to be a given, what seems poised to put the “juice” into this year’s – and upcoming years’ – CHS girls’ squad is an array of quick, aggressive players in a variety of sizes, several of which more than got their feet wet last season.
Most-experienced of that group will be lanky sophomore forward Essie Hicks and energetic, aggressive point guard Lucy Reeter, another 10th grader who looks likely to see time at both the “1” (point) and “2” (shooting) guard spots. Both got into more than 20 games a year ago.
Hicks looks to have lost any timidity about her game with that prior experience and, with her height, long arms, and speed, could create mobility mismatches with other teams’ post players, as well as being a harassing presence at the top of the press the Lady Hornets figure to use very extensively.
“Essie’s really come along,” Smith praised. “She’s just so deceivingly fast. She just glides.
“We’re looking to get her down the court fast to try to feed it to her (in transition). Her job is supposed to be to beat the other team’s ‘big’ down the floor and she’s going to be able to do that a lot.
“She’s rebounding the ball well. Her head’s in the right place. She was getting us right into our press right away every time (during the intrasquad scrimmage). Really did a good job.”
Quick and fearless on the drive, but with good ballhandling ‘chops,” L. Reeter will bring a dribble-drive dimension CHS hasn’t had since Karson Keithley’s graduation in 2017, but she won’t be alone in reintroducing that capacity.
Classmate Selby Miller will bring quickness and an attacking mentality to the point, as will freshman Jessica Reeter, who not only is expected to see lots of action, but could start at the outset of the season next week.
“She just doesn’t seem to get tired,” Smith says of the frosh, already adept at using either hand for dribbling or passing.
Of the sophomore pair, the CHS coach reports, “Both of them can run the ‘1’ or the ‘2’. Both of them can shoot the ball well and dribble-penetrate. Selby might be a little more defensive-minded than Lucy, but, man, Lucy can handle the ball and get it where it needs to go, so they play off of each other real well.”
He continues, “It’s just going to be a matchup, trying to figure out who’s working well together for us. In the long run, I’ll be able to throw about anybody out there in that group.”
In addition to that young trio, senior Haley Kidd, who showed nice potential as a transfer from Trenton a year ago, seems to have found her niche and comfort zone as a “2” (shooting) guard who won’t be afraid to “drive and dish.”
“She plays hard,” compliments the coach. “Coming where she came from at Trenton, where they played mainly zone (defense) to, pretty much, straight ‘man’ (under Smith), I feel like her principles are real good.
“She’s coming along really nice.”
That quartet will be expected to create more need for “help” defense from the players primarily assigned to guard Hibner and Keithley on the perimeter. That should translate to more clean looks at the rim for that sniping pair, as well as for Keithley to cut to the basket unguarded for shots and foul-drawing attempts when her defender gets distracted by the point guard’s penetration.
“That’s kind of one of the reasons why we changed what we’re doing. No. 1 is the players fit it a little better. You’ve got Lucy and Selby and Jessi – any one of the three can run that ‘1’ (point guard position) and break people down off the dribble. That’s going to open my (outside) shooters, I think, a lot.”
Based on who Smith sent out to begin this past Tuesday’s “jamboree” scrimmages against Brookfield and Trenton, the starting lineup for Tuesday’s opener against a good Hamilton team, led by star guard Nora Ford and others, projects to be Keithley, Hibner, Hicks, L. Reeter, and Je. Reeter. Horton, Miller, and Kidd would be the earliest reserves to enter.
Trenton star Maci Moore abused CHS in the paint on both offense and defense in the “jamboree” scrimmage and developing a more-hard-nosed attitude overall and especially about rebounding and defending inside looks to be one of the primary tasks – along with sharpening the shooting eyes of everyone – to be undertaken during the 2019 portion of the season.
Finding post-player depth will be another key mission during December and early January. One or more from the group of junior Ella Leamer and sophomores Clara Leamer and Ellie Barnett will be needed to provide foul-trouble protection, as well as personnel capable of helping keep the press in use even when starters are resting. If any of those three can show the moxie to battle defensively and for rebounds under the glass, that player likely would earn the most playing time.
“That’s where we’re not real big. … You’ve got (5’9”) Clara, (5’6”) Ella, and (5’7”) Ellie that are going to have to run through that (low) post. Their job’s just going to be to battle, just be strong, be physical, and they’re pretty good at that. They work really hard.”
As was demonstrated during last Tuesday’s “jamboree” scrimmages against talented and experienced Trenton and Brookfield teams which both appear headed to successful seasons – BHS under Chillicothe alumnus Tony Fairchild and THS under Kameron Cool, son of CHS boys’ head coach Tim Cool, there undoubtedly will be growing pains for the Lady Hornets, given the turnover in starting personnel. The raw materials to work with, though, clearly seem there.
“Those younger kids just have to learn the speed of the game. We’ve been practicing at that speed, … so they’re starting to get a grasp of what that’s all about. But, man, they play hard and that’s what we want.
“We want them to play hard and go (full speed) for two or three minutes and then we’ll get somebody else in there” to maintain the fast pace.