Things took a major shift last season at Snider. A new coach and an absolutely loaded freshman class helped change the narrative from where Snider had been solid into a place where the Panthers are a major SAC title contender heading into this season. After three straight losing seasons, the Panthers finished 13-8 and were in the thick of the SAC race.
“That sophomore class, they are all phenomenal kids. This year, they all have elevated their game in different ways,” Snider coach Akilah Sims said. “I think they are doing a really good job so far of trying to lock in and step up in areas they made have struggled last year.”
The top three are a trio who you should get used to. Just heading into their sophomore seasons, Jordyn Poole, Joh’nea Donahue and Destini Craig have already established themselves as three of the best players in the conference.
Poole, who has a huge host of Division I suitors, has been the talk of the class for years long before she was ever in high school. She averaged a co-team high 13.9 points per game last season but when she was on, she was absolutely electric. Poole torched some of the best defenses in the area.
Donahue is a perfect running mate for Poole as she shared that team high with 13.9 points of her own. While Poole relies more on savvy, Donahue will run right at you to finish at the rim. Her hard charging nature also made her a leader on the defensive end. Craig is solid as a stretch forward, who can rebound and score but also has the court vision and IQ to be a good distributor.
“Now there is no surprise of who this team is, they are everybody’s radar now,” Sims said.
Joining that top three is another sophomore in Tia Phinezy, who was a big post presence in a lot of games last year for the Panthers. She appeared in all 21 games while averaging 5.9 points per game and shooting 55 percent from the field. She had six games where she hit 75 percent or more of her shots last season.
Samantha Kabisch will again rotate in for some minutes in the post after averaging 2.8 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in 2021-22. She will need to provide interior depth for a guard heavy lineup.
“Our 4s and 5s are going to be interesting this year, we will be a small team. We’re going to have to play a little bit of small ball and just run teams out,” Sims said.
Jyah LoVett has transferred in from California. Part of an athletic family well known to the Fort Wayne community, LoVett is a high level scorer. According to the Los Angeles Times, when she made her debut last season for Muir High School, she scored 55 points in that first game. She also scored 61 and 49 points in other games last season in California. LoVett, a senior, is a quick guard that has high energy and can help pressure opposing offenses.
Another piece of the Class of 2024 is Ciara Sims, who is coach Akilah Sims’ cousin. She played some spot minutes as a freshman, averaging just 1.2 points per game but there is an expectation for her to make some noise from the shooting guard position this season. Sims is long at 5-foot-7 and could really add another critical aspect on both ends of the floor.
Jaiden Eastom will also return as a backcourt option for her senior season.
The multitude of strong, quick guards is ideal for Snider as they continue to ramp up their defense. While they return the majority of their offense, it is the defensive end that really helped them establish their pace last season.
Sims expects more of that this year.
“That has always been Snider’s MO, even when I went there. We’ve always been that pressure, man-to-man team. That is something that I feel will help us stay successful, definitely wanting to pick up full court, sag back into the half court and still pressure really hard at times,” Sims said.
The Panthers proved last season that they can run with the best of the best in the SAC and the area. Even in games they fell a little short, they put a scare in the teams that did beat them. And they did that with a load of freshmen.
So why wouldn’t they be able to do it now with a much more developed and seasoned group. Snider is going to be very scary for anyone on their schedule. And those 8 losses last year? Well it looks like there is a lot of avenging to do.
The Panthers can defend any team in the area so if they are on, they can win any given night.
“We are trying to implement more defenses that we can use late in a game or situational,” Sims said. “Picking up man to man, we want to get in your face, force you to play fast like we do and we want to control the tempo of the game on the defensive side. That is the best way to do it in my eyes.”
WHY NOT HIGHER?
There is a look at those eight losses and we want to see how much the maturity has risen in the last few months. While we expect that it will be higher, it is one of those see to believe things.
#3 is no knock on Snider, we expect them to contend and maybe even win the SAC, but they will have some things to prove to get there. There is far from an easy path ahead for the Panthers but some early season wins against top notch in and out of area teams will get them moving quickly.
January 14 at Homestead
We all know that this is the game that matters most. Likely, this one will be for the SAC title. Last season, the Panthers dispatched Homestead in what was a clear show of how quickly the Snider program has turned around under Akilah Sims. If Snider can do it again this year, we can call it the official passing of the torch perhaps.
Is that too bold? We will see. But Snider at Homestead could really spell a shift in the balance of power in the SAC.
Tia Phinezy, sophomore
Her classmates are all big time threats, but that doesn’t mean Phinezy isn’t. She gives a good balance as an inside threat and really showed out at specific times last season as a fourth key freshman.
She played in every game while averaging 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest. She shot 55 percent from the field and broke out against Bishop Dwenger in her seventh career game going for 13 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting. Her career high, to this point, came against Bellmont with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
You have to like that kind of completion percentage on your shots.