Trib Cup: Hopewell girls still winning without Walker-Kimbrough
No Shatori, no problem.
The Class AAA No. 5 Hopewell girls basketball program has some big shoes to fill in the absence of former all-state player Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and the 27.8 points she averaged last year. Walker's been busy lately making her presence felt in the ACC with Maryland.
Without her, the Vikings entered Thursday's Section 2-AAA clash with also unbeaten Blackhawk (4-0, 1-0) at a perfect 5-0, which included the Penn Hills Tipoff tournament title.
The Vikings are highlighted as this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are a primary reason why Hopewell is in eighth place in the Class AAA standings.
Coach Jeff Homziak isn't surprised with the early success but is happy his experienced group is making a name for themselves.
“Shatori was a great player and she deserved all the accolades that came with her having such a great career, but we have some players,” Homziak said. “I have four seniors that have played varsity for three years and they have the talent and ability that some people have forgotten about.”
Senior point guard Shaniya Rivers scored 15 points and Desirae Ritmiller had 10 in the Vikings' 56-23 win over Ellwood City on Dec. 16. Rivers has shown her versatility in recent years, running the point this year and last year after playing forward as a sophomore. Ritmiller has length that Homziak said is key to defending opponents down low.
Kari Steuer and Ali Marie Santina are the other returning varsity seniors. Steuer at just 5-foot-9 has been a solid post player, and Ali Marie Santina plays an aggressive defensive style and has hit several key shots as a shooting guard.
“The biggest thing I told them before the season started was that people are going to write you off without Shatori this year, but you all are good basketball players,” he said. “At times last year they may have looked to have to bail them out, but I think without her it's going to force them to play as a team.
“And in my opinion, them playing as a team can still make for a very solid basketball program that's going to win some games.”
The makeup of the Vikings will be different than in year's past as well. Homziak surmised that once the Vikings enter the heart of their Section 2 schedule, the games will be tighter.
“We're not going to win any games by 40 or in blowouts,” he said. “We're going to play solid defense, get good shots and be an efficient team on both ends.”
Last year, Hopewell finished 22-5 and beat its opponents by an average of just under 24 points. Through its first five games, the Vikings are beating teams by an average of just under 29 points with a 67-6 win over Kiski Area to its advantage.
To reach its goal of making the WPIAL playoffs and again qualify for the state tournament, Homziak said it will come down to health and consistent play on the court.
“If we're healthy, with this experience we have, we can go a long way,” he said. “We don't like to look ahead because that's when someone can sneak up and beat you.”
Without its big name superstar from year's past, it may be Hopewell that's the one sneaking up on teams.
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.