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Eagles' 'big basketball family' gets to work

Bill Althaus
Freshman McKenna Sears, left, and sophomore Co-Examiner Girls Basketball Player of the Year Grace Slaughter visit after Tuesday morning's conditioning session at Moody Murry Field at Grain Valley High School.

No one at Moody Murry Field was having more fun Tuesday morning than Grain Valley High School girls basketball coach Randy Draper and assistants Pete Carpino and Tori Squires.

They were leading players from all sports at the high school through a conditioning program that will transform into practices for their respective sports next week.

After the girls took part in a weight training session in the south end zone, Draper manned two sanitizer spray bottles and spun them around like Old West six-shooters.

“I’ll shoot (the sanitizer) up in the air and you run under it,” he told one camper, as she laughed and clapped her hands together. “Great weather, great kids – it doesn’t get much better than this.”

Draper and his assistant coaches were keeping a close eye on the young players who will make up the core of his team this winter as sophomores Ella Clyman and Co-Examiner Girls Basketball Player of the Year Grace Slaughter will be joined by a group of freshmen who were undefeated in the regular season last year on a combined team from each Grain Valley middle school.

“I’ve been waiting to play with Grace and Ella my whole life,” said point guard McKenna Sears, who will likely take some of the ball handling responsibilities away from Slaughter this year so she can concentrate on improving her 24-point scoring average.

“We were always a year behind Ella and Grace and we’ve been following them since we were in the second grade. Now, finally, we have the chance to be on the same team, and we’re going to work so hard that we earn some playing time.”

Sears joined Slaughter and Clyman after the conditioning session on the bleachers, where they did a series of running drills.

“Look at that,” Draper said to Carpino, “the best players are our hardest workers. I have the feeling we could be pretty good this year.”

The Eagles made it to the Class 4 state quarterfinals last year and Draper said his incoming freshmen could have a dramatic impact on the high school team.

“Those eighth graders won a lot of games last year and we’re hoping they do the same thing this upcoming season,” Draper said.

Slaughter said that talent and a work ethic that is off the charts could lead to more success for the Eagles.

“First off, I just want to say how much fun and how amazing it has been to condition outside with Coach Draper, Coach Carp and Coach Squires in this great weather,” she said, as the temperature was in the mid 60s.

“We are getting in so much work and conditioning, and I can’t wait to see how we do with all our new players next week when we start practicing basketball.”

Clyman agreed, adding, “We’re all so much stronger this year and we have all these great freshmen joining the team. I remember what it was like for me and Grace to be freshmen last year and we’re going to make sure they feel like members of our family from the first day.”

Sears said that’s what she would expect from leaders like Clyman and Slaughter.

“They aren’t just great players and hard workers,” Sears said, “they’re great people. We’re going to be a big basketball family, and hopefully, a big basketball family that wins a lot of games.”