Butler 8th-grade girls put together 2nd straight unbeaten hoop season
Members of the undefeated Butler eighth-grade girls basketball team include, clockwise from top, Sydney Patterson, Evie Paserba, Avery Maier, Madi McGarrah, Makayla McLister, Maura Penrod, Jessica Calhoun, Courtney Hussion and Amelia McMichael.
BUTLER TWP — Improve upon perfection?
It seems impossible. Regardless, first-year Butler eighth-grade girls basketball coach Bill McElroy wanted to give it a try.
McElroy had coached his daughter Malina's elementary school teams the previous three years. He agreed to take the reins of the eighth-grade girls basketball squad this year.
That group was coming off a 20-0 season as seventh-graders.
“I believe they won one game in overtime, a couple of others by two points or so ... I challenged them to be more consistent this year,” McElroy said.
And they were.
Playing an abbreviated schedule this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Golden Tornado eighth-grade girls went 11-0 this winter, winning no game by fewer than 13 points.
McElroy is good friends with Butler High School varsity girls coach Mark Maier.
“We've played a lot of pick-up basketball together over the years,” McElroy said. “Mark asked me to get involved with coaching junior high last year, but I was working with my daughter's team.
“With her coming up to junior high next year, I told Mark I could give him three years at the junior high level. I may coach Malina's seventh-grade team next year. After this three-year period, I'll want to watch her play high school ball.”
While coaching junior high, McElroy wanted to stay consistent with what the varsity team was doing.
“Bill came to our open gyms during the summer,” Maier said. “He took a lot of notes. They (eighth-graders) ran our press, our in-bounds plays, produced the same culture.
“My daughter (Avery) is on that team. She came home from practice one day and told me they were doing the same stuff that I coach. Not a lot of junior high coaches take the time to do that.”
Amelia McMichael, a 5-foot-10 forward and daughter of former 6-8 Butler boys basketball player Chris McMichael, led the eighth-grade team with 13 points per game. She averaged 16 per game in seventh grade.
Point guard Sydney Patterson averaged 10 points per game and led the team in assists.
“Amelia was our big scorer, Sydney our big leader on the court,” McElroy said. “Sydney runs our offense and gets everybody involved.
“Madi McGarrah is a shooting guard and our best defensive player. We find the biggest offensive threat on the other team and she just locks down on her.”
Avery Maier is a fourth starter. The fifth starter comes from a number of players as Maura Penrod, Evie Paserba, Courtney Hussion, Jessica Calhoun and Makayla McLister round out the nine-player roster.
“You hope to get five or six players from every class (for varsity basketball),” Coach Maier said. “Some kids play other sports or move on to other things in high school.
“We'll be getting a few players from this group.”
Butler's eighth-grade team averaged 43.8 points per game and allowed an average of 21. Only one team, Woodland Hills, scored 30 points on the Tornado and that was in a 54-30 Butler win.
The Tornado defeated North Hills 50-9, North Allegheny Ingomar 42-12 and Seneca Valley 39-18.
“These girls have gotten so good at full-court pressure defense,” McElroy said. “We played North Allegheny Marshall the other day and they didn't get the ball across mid-court until four minutes into the game. They didn't score in the first quarter.
“I coached football for a long time and I'm a yeller. I told the girls I'd yell when they mess up and I'd yell when they do something good.
“There's a fine line there. You want kids who will stick it out, who can take the criticism. The role here us to get them ready for the next level. That's what's most important,” he added.
“Youth and junior high is the life-blood of your program,” Maier said. “These kids coming up have a leg-up on how we do things at the high school level. That's going to benefit all of us.”