Published Thu, Feb 2, 2012 7:48 pm Dateline
Ohio’s skilled markswomen have a history dating back three years.
Ohio freshman guard Mariah Byard and sophomore guard Erin Bailes are similar players with similar roles: they are shooters.
Byard and Bailes are first and second for Ohio, respectively, in three-point field goals made and attempted. Both players have a quick release and pull the trigger with confidence. And between the two of them are five All-State selections in West Virginia’s high school Class AAA.
Three years ago, Byard’s North Marion High School took on Bailes’ Huntington High School in a thriller with the state championship on the line.
With just under 10 seconds remaining in the game, both teams were tied at 64. Byard, a sophomore, inbounded the ball under her basket. After a missed shot attempt and offensive rebound, Byard got a pass and an open look from 15 feet at the buzzer as Bailes rushed to put a hand in her face…
That shot began a streak of three consecutive state championships for North Marion High School. Byard would go on to win the West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year award in each of her next two seasons, leading her team to a 48-1 combined record.
As for Huntington, that loss was its third straight season falling one game short as state runner-up. Bailes would be named a McDonalds All-American nominee as a senior, averaging 17.4 points per game, before losing in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
Three years later, Byard and Bailes are on the same team.
“We’re actually really good friends now,” Byard said. “Whenever I first came, it was a little awkward, but we got over that real quick.”
Bailes, likewise, shared that the two get along well off the court, and she’s happy to have Byard on her team.
“I don’t have that grudge anymore,” she said with a laugh.
While there’s no way to tell for sure whether Bailes secretly despises Byard, the pair of sharpshooters has been adjusting to new roles as teammates since joining forces on campus.
Ohio head coach Semeka Randall talked about the transition from high school to college for both players.
“In this generation it’s often difficult because they’re used to having the ball,” Randall said. “Watching them, it takes time for them to learn how to play with four other players on the floor that are used to having [the ball] all the time and doing it on their own.”
“It is very difficult, but you just have to adjust to learning to play with everybody who has different roles,” Bailes said.
Bailes has struggled at times this season shooting the ball, but Randall continually affirms her confidence in the sophomore.
“The biggest thing we try to do as a coaching staff is tell her to keep shooting, keep believing in herself,” said Randall. “As a player, you want to do so well and you put so much into it that you tend to press and be hard on yourself.”
But despite Bailes’ struggles this season, she’s still a capable shooter who stretches the defense. At 6’0’’, her size makes her an essential catch and shoot option for Ohio’s attack, and she has shown that she can get hot. Last season, Bailes’ career high five threes and 23 points lifted the Bobcats past Northern Illinois in the first round of the MAC tournament.
Byard brings something slightly different to the table. Her ability to create her own shot allows her to play on ball, and she has developed into a primary scoring option for Ohio’s second unit. Also, Byard spent time as a facilitator earlier this season, due to injuries to point guards Kat Yelle and Ashley Fowler.
When asked about the transition from being the best player on her high school team to accepting a role as a college athlete, Byard said, “I never really considered myself the best player…it really wasn’t that much of a transition in that aspect.”
“She just wants to win,” Randall said. “We need everybody to have her mentality and that bug that she has that just goes off inside her.”
Byard has brought a fierce competitiveness to Ohio, even as a freshman, that has shown in her play on several occasions. Her 21 points in 31 minutes off the bench against Buffalo led the team when forward Porsha Harris was injured, and her seven games in double figures is good for third on the team.
“I do not like to lose,” Byard said. “I’ve just always, in anything that I do…I try to win.”
“She’s a great player,” Bailes said. “It was good to have another shooter on the team.”
While the 2009 West Virginia Class AAA State Championship Game was an emotional night for both players, Byard and Bailes have moved on and adjusted to life as friends and teammates. Both will be back in action as the Bobcats (10-13, 3-6 MAC) take on Northern Illinois (9-12, 3-6 MAC) on Saturday.