Buckhannon-Upshur basketball preview: Kittle feels this may be his best team since taking over in 2018

TENNERTON – Rob Kittle enters his fourth year as head coach of the Buckhannon-Upshur Lady Buc basketball program to start the 2021-22 season.

Two things stick out the most on Kittle’s resume as a head coach: He has never had a losing season, and he has never been able to make a trip to the state tournament coming out of perhaps the toughest region in Class AAAA.

Kittle feels he can burst through that bubble this year calling the 2021-22 version of his Lady Bucs “the best team he has had in his four years as head coach.”

“I am excited for the season,” remarked Kittle. “This is probably my most talented team in regards to our starting five I have had as head coach. I think if we can develop some depth, I think we have a legitimate shot of making it back to Charleston.”

To get back to Charleston, the Lady Bucs will turn to senior guard Shelby McDaniels to lead them.

McDaniels is a two-time Second Team All-Starter earning that honor her sophomore and junior seasons.

Last year, McDaniels led the team in scoring with 16 points per game.

“Shelby is our leader,” stated Kittle. “That is no secret. She is so talented and works so hard. She leads by example; everything is going to go through her. Even as a two-time all-stater, she has really improved even more this off-season. From seeing the floor to the doing the little things right that makes our team better, she will be who we turn to.  I expect for her to have another monster season.”

With the loss of just two seniors last season in McKenzie Reynolds and Kennedy Samargo, Kittle will have a team loaded with experience this year.

“We have basically five girls coming back that gained a ton of experience last year,” noted Kittle.

Underneath the basket, Kittle will see the return of junior Kendall Currence and senior Kierra Woods. Currence led the team in rebounding with almost eight rebounds per game last year while averaging eight points per contest. Woods had her junior season interrupted by an injury playing in just nine games averaging four points and four rebounds per game.

Joining McDaniels in the backcourt will be a pair of sophomores who saw significant time last year as freshman in Gabby Parke and Kenna Maxwell.

Parke was second on the team in scoring with 11 points per game while Maxwell averaged over seven points per game.

Kittle expects both players to be key pieces for the Lady Bucs this year after solid freshmen seasons.

“I think for both of them, the speed of the game will slow down as they move into their sophomore seasons,” remarked Kittle about the transition of moving from a freshman to a sophomore. “The game is slowing down for them and they are doing a much better job of seeing the court this year. Plus, they both have a better understanding of the finer points of our offense, how to create spacing and how to get open.”

While depth was an issue at times for the Lady Bucs last year, Kittle said he hopes to be able to go 8-9 deep this season.

“We return with senior Olivia Ellis and sophomore Kyndal Davis, both who saw some limited varsity minutes last year,” said Kittle. “We also have a couple of freshman that I expect to get some time at varsity as well. Last year, we had injuries and COVID hit us hard. We just never mentally or physically recovered from that. I think if we can avoid the injury bug and have some girls step up, we have a chance to be a very dangerous team.”

Kittle’s philosophy over his four years is to play an aggressive defense forcing the opposition into turnovers — something he still expects to employ this year.

“I think we have great length this year to be aggressive on defense,” said Kittle. “I expect us to create a lot of havoc on defense. I will still look for us to get about 20 turnovers a game. We are doing a better job of seeing the floor offensively, so hopefully we won’t create a turnover only to give the turnover back to the other team. We want to create points off the turnover, more so than in the past, and we are well on our way to that right now in practice. I think offensively, we have a team that can shoot the ball better than in the past. We have four girls that can step out and hit a shot.”

Kittle is also happy to be able to spend more time with his team this pre-season after being rushed through a shortened pre-season last year due to the pandemic, which pushed back the start of last season by two months.

“This year we have more time to get some more work in,” stated Kittle. “We have more time to work with the team. Last year we didn’t have that much time to prepare. Right now, everyone is buying into what we are doing.”

If Kittle hopes to make a return to Charleston, he will have to get through a loaded and competitive region with teams like Wheeling Park, Morgantown, Bridgeport and University.

“We have preached to our team about breaking through in our region,” noted Kittle. “To do that, we simply have to be the best team we can be. We have a lot of talented individuals but we will have to play as a team. If we don’t, we won’t get anywhere, and I think in the past we have struggled with that, but I think we are on the right track this year.”

The schedule this year will certainly prepare Kittle’s squad for sectional play. In addition to games with their regional rivals, the Lady Bucs have out-of-conference games scheduled with Martinsburg, Musselman and Parkersburg South.

The Big 10 Conference will once again have quality teams as well with the likes of Fairmont Senior, North Marion and Philip Barbour who will appear on the Lady Buc schedule.

“I told the team that we are going to be tested this season,” said Kittle. “That is the only way I know of how we can get better and to reach our goals. All that matters is how well we are playing at the end of the season, which is what we are building to.”

B-U will have their first scrimmage Monday as they host Tucker County.

The Lady Bucs will begin their season Tuesday, Dec. 7 at Preston.

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