Sometimes Reeltown’s girls basketball team won by 30 points. Other times, it had to eke out a narrow victory in hard-fought endings. And still other times, the Rebels had to claw back from huge deficits to earn comeback wins.
But no matter what, Reeltown usually seemed to find a way to win regardless of the situation and that’s thanks in large part to Rebel coach Will Solomon. He led the Rebels to their best season in recent memory as they finished 17-5 before bowing out in the first round of regionals. He is the 2019-20 All-Outlook Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
“That’s just it: They found a way to win,” Solomon said. “Not every opponent is going to be the same and not every game situation is going to be the same. I really do believe that you can instill a mental approach with these athletes and I try to teach them not to ride the roller coaster of emotions. They just gotta take one play at a time and overcome adversity, and I think they took that to heart.”
Not only was Reeltown versatile in the ways it won, it also did so using a wide variety of defenses. Solomon always puts an emphasis on strong defense and he game plans his specific defenses for each opponent.
“Any team can have a bad night shooting the ball but when you play good defense consistently, you give yourself a chance to overcome that,” Solomon said. “We do a lot of different drills and game situation stuff in practice that are specific to the different defenses we play. Overall we just have an attitude that we’re going to make it tough on our opponents to score.”
Reeltown’s defensive prowess definitely came through in its overall stats. The Rebels allowed an average of just 36.3 points against per game. They gave up more than 50 points just four times all season, including once in their season-ending loss to Geneva County and once in an overtime affair. The other two were against higher classification opponents.
But as defensive minded as Solomon is, he attributed that night-in and night-out success to his players’ high basketball IQ.
“The reason we were able to do that was because we had a group that could really understand concepts,” Solomon said. “All defenses are ultimately the same as far as covering the floor but they really studied the game and knew where to be, and it took a lot of repetition day after day.”
Like many coaches, Solomon had a clear bond with his players, especially after coaching the same group for so many years. He was flooded with memories about the season but the one that stuck out most was when Reeltown fought back from a huge first-half deficit to earn an overtime victory over Beauregard on Senior Night.
“We were down by 23 in the first quarter and I had six girls fouled out and we fought and clawed our way back to get it to overtime,” Solomon said. “(Senior) Nyla (Hayden) comes off the bench and hits the two biggest free throws of her career to set it to overtime. My two seniors who were on the court in overtime (Hayden and Eryn Wells) had their tongues hanging out they were so tired but they knew they weren’t coming off the court.
“Then we had an eighth-grader Nolie Clay step up and hit the game-winning bucket with a few seconds left. It just showed the younger kids had the older kids’ backs and we kinda put it all together that night.”
Solomon and the Rebels are going to have to replace a lot next season, especially with the graduation of five-year starting point guard Taniya Haynes, but being the coach he is, Solomon knows he’ll need to put an emphasis on guard play this offseason so the Rebels can be back for more.