Few basketball teams have been more impressive to start the 2019-20 season than Francis Howell Central’s Spartans.
Howell Central’s relentless offense and defense have been a nightmare for opposing teams to deal with this winter.
The most recent opponent to witness that firsthand was Lutheran St. Charles.
On Dec. 30, Howell Central completed another tournament domination on thanks to a 49-24 dismantling of the Lutheran St. Charles Cougars in the championship game of the 26th Annual St. Dominic Christmas Tournament.
“We had played them two times previously, and they’re just a very tough team,” Howell Central Coach Hayley Leake said. “I think it’s very unique because people looking at us on the outside … and say we lack size. We have felt like, from the very beginning, we’ve had to play with a chip on our shoulder a be bit tougher in different areas.”
Howell Central’s Azaria Hulbert and Gabbi Thomason scored 18 and 10 points respectively to power the Spartans past Lutheran for the third time this season.
The Spartans also defeated Lutheran 55-54 in the Lutheran St. Charles Tournament on Dec. 21. Then, six days later, beat them 52-49 to win the Fort Zumwalt North Tournament.
Wins over host St. Dominic (57-43), and Fort Zumwalt South (56-35) propelled the Spartans into the championship game against Lutheran on Dec. 30.
Howell Central’s 11-0 start heading into next week is the team’s best since 2005 when the program blazed out to 15-0 start that season.
Senior guards Hulbert and Thomason have been major contributors to the super start. Hulbert averages 13.2 points per game and Thomason averages just over six points per game. Against Lutheran, they had the hot hands.
“I think it’s all about sharing the basketball,” Leake said. “Our team did a great job of sharing the basketball, knowing what spots players like, and then those players made good decisions.”
Down in the paint, 5-9 junior forward Sofia Tweedie has been unstoppable, scoring about 13 points per game.
“Sofia is just very well rounded as a player,” Leake said. “She has the ability to finish around the rim and run the floor. She also has the ability to step out and make the three as well. I think the just the level of work she’s put in, you can see it transcending on the floor now.”
Leake also made sure to include 5-foot-6 junior point guard Gracie Stugart among the team’s top contributors. Stugart has been the catalyst of the Spartans so far this season. As the team’s floor leader, she has a club-high 62 assists heading into early January 2020.
“She plays so hard,” Leake said. “She’s our assist leader and, honestly, she hardly comes off the floor.”
The defense has also been strong for the Spartans. In the past six games heading into the new year, they have only given up more than 35 points in a game twice.
“I think the one thing we can control every day is our level of preparation,” Leake said. “Specifically, our level of preparation on the defensive side of the ball. Defense travels and we feel confident that no matter where we go, we have the energy and focus, and connectedness that we can be a tough team.”
Leake knows her team is playing well heading into the back half of the season but refuses to let them speculate too far ahead in the season.
“We’re not huge into goals or setting our sights on anything specific,” Leake said. “Every day, they come in and we talk about the process of where we’re at and how we want to get better that day. Every day, we take on an opponent we are 0-0 and then go 1-0.”