“That’s something that I’ve never asked her to do,” Monmouth girls’ basketball coach Scott Wing said. “Her father gets the keys to get in, and she’s constantly working on her game. She just loves it.”
Day, a junior guard for the Mustangs, is among the Mountain Valley Conference’s leaders in several categories. But she’s had to work a little harder this season to be productive.
Day has been a starter since the first game of her freshman year. The first two seasons, she played alongside another stellar guard, Sidney Wilson. That allowed Wing to position the two on opposite sides of the court, which spread out opposing defenses and took pressure off both Day and Wilson.
“They had to have girls trying to guard her close and also me close because we both could shoot,” Day said. “I guess that made it easier, because they didn’t just zone in on me, they could zone in on both of us.”
But Wilson graduated, which left Day as the Mustangs’ best known weapon and, therefore, the focus of other teams.
“This is her third year now being a starter of every game, and she is on everybody’s radar, that’s for sure,” Wing said. “People know that she’s the one that can score a lot if need be, so they’ve got to pay attention to her. But she’s handled that very well; it’s the reason she leads the conference in assists, because she’s making her teammates around her better.”
In 2015-16, Day ranked eighth in the MVC in scoring (10.9 points per game), fifth in assists (3.8 per game) and second in 3-pointers made (32).
Despite the extra attention from defenses, Day has improved those numbers this season. Through 12 games this season, she led the conference in assists (5.2 per game), 3-pointers (25 made; 2.1 per game) and free-throw shooting (81.3 percent). She was sixth in scoring (11.5 points per game) and seventh in steals (4.17).
“She’s an all-around player,” Wing said. “She’s very heady, very smart, she understands the game; she sees things happen well before they happen; she sees plays develop — stuff that you can’t coach.”
Wing credits her genes for some of those things, calling her dad, Mike, one of the best basketball players to play at Monmouth. She also has spent a lot of time playing the game and practicing.
As with those Sunday morning workouts, Mike Day has played a major role in Day’s development. That includes coaching her AAU teams. Her current team, Swish It, features many of her Monmouth teammates.
“My dad was a real big basketball guy, and he just kind of passed on the love he had for it to me,” Tia Day said. “And he just works on it a lot with me, takes a lot of time to help me improve and for me to be the best, so I think I’ve just kind of take on the love that he has for it.”
Tia Day came into this season aiming to increase her versatility. For instance, she wanted to spend less time beyond the arc and become more of a threat to drive the lane.
“When I was a younger player, I’d look more to just stay at the 3-point line and shoot it,” Day said, “and I definitely have worked more this year to take it more to the basket to try to create fouls and create more for my teammates, instead of just living on the 3-point line.”
This improved facet has been a boon to not only Day, but her teammates as well.
“If she does have that threat of going to the basket, then it’s harder to come up and pressure her outside, because they’ve got to be honest with her penetrating also,” Wing said. “And she’s such a phenomenal passer, so if people have to step and help, she can make some unbelievable passes to teammates.”
Wilson might be gone, but Day’s production this year is still being aided by her teammates. They’ve been helping and producing themselves.
The Mustangs don’t have a single senior, but they do have a slew of varsity experience.
Abbey Allen, like Day, is a junior who has been starting since she was a freshman. Fellow juniors Emily Grandahl, Hannah Anderson and Maddie Amero also have extensive experience. Sophomore Abby Ferland has become a key contributor, and her classmates Julia Johnson, Kaeti Butterfield and Destiny Clough are playing key minutes for the 13-2 Mustangs. Freshman guard Audrey Fletcher is one of the team’s top rebounders.
“My teammates have definitely helped me out with setting screens for me to get open and also players like Abbey Allen and Hannah Anderson taking it to the basket helps take the pressure off.
“And we’re also a team that does a lot of fast-breaking, we like to press, so that also helps with not having girls constantly on me, if we’re fast-breaking and getting easy points like that.”
Wing said that he has 11 players he feels comfortable playing. In the win over Boothbay last Saturday, which was one of Monmouth’s biggest games so far this season, Wing played 10 players — all of them saw action in the first half, and many played as early as the first quarter.
“There’s quite a few of them that on a given night, you know, can have decent nights,” Wing said. “It seems to be whoever the other team doesn’t pay attention to can step up.”
With that kind of depth, skill and experience, Day says the Mustangs have their sights set high for next month’s Class C playoffs.
“The goal is definitely to go to the state championship game and win the gold ball,” Day said.