Game 13    JAN 16 SUN 8:45 pm   Twinsburg Tigers vs. Myrtle Beach (SC) Seahawks

By Dave Mast

Twinsburg is coming off of a dream 23-2 that was derailed in Regional finals versus eventual Div. I champion Canton McKinley. Now, head coach Julie Solis wants to test her talented team against the best, and they got it in the Classic, having drawn two of the very best from Kentucky and South Carolina.

“We want to be tournament tested before we get to tournaments,” said Solis. “We’ve got some huge expectations.”

The spark igniting this talented squad is Malina Howard, the 6-4 junior who was a U.S. 18-U Olympian this past summer. Solis said of her star player, “She has come back at a completely new level. Her maturity is now sky high, and her confidence is rubbing off on the other players.”

She is joined by 5-foot-10-inch LaShawna Gatewood, who has improved her game on the blocks to the outside, Leah Fechko, of whom Solis said, “She just goes out there every night and works her butt off,” and senior point guard Katie Fox, an intelligent kid who runs the show for the Tigers. Off the bench will come 6-foot-2-inch Char-dell Dunnigan, who Solis said is learning the game’s nuances well and creates a tough defensive wall inside, Nicole Carman, who is the team’s purest shooter and an improved defender, and Nichole Mabry, a player Solis said has impressive vision.

While offensively the team is explosive, the Tigers will hang their hat on defense, where everything starts.

“Our philosophy is that everything on offense starts with defense,” said Solis. “We preach defense every day.”

Solis also said that the Tigers are an improved team from a team-chemistry standpoint, as players learn their roles. “We’ve learned how to play much better team ball and that is exciting,” said Solis. “I think a lot of that came from Malina’s USA experience, and the confidence that she brings. She has learned how to get her teammates involved, and can get on her teammates in a positive way.”

As far as their opponent, the time will come where they will learn more about the Seahawks, but for now, they are focusing on their continuing advancements as a team.

“Sometimes you just have to go out and play you’re opponent and make them come after you,” said Solis. “We know that they will be a formidable foe, but we feel like we can compete with anyone. We just have to continue to focus and grow as a team.”

“We’re excited to face such a quality opponent as Twinsburg,” said Brian Kiper, Myrtle Beach skipper and former Triway High School grad. “One of the things we were very focused on this year was bumping up our schedule a notch or two, and this is the kind of game that we relished. We want to challenge ourselves this year to prove that we can play with anyone, and this is a big step in that direction, because we know Twinsburg has an extremely talented group of kids, and Howard is a force.”

With seniors D.J. Hunter, Shatia Cole and Keyaurna Wilson leading a deep and athletic group, the Seahawks and Tigers ought to wage one heck of a battle.