By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
In gardening, a hotbed is a place of fertile dirt that breeds lush, green plants when the time is right.
In basketball terms, one could argue that Marion County has become a hotbed for young girls’ basketball talent.
Each of the three teams has underclassmen who are stepping above and beyond their calling for their respective teams.
Megan Haller, a sophomore guard for North Marion, has been playing just about as good as anyone in the area in the early goings.
Coming into the 2013 season, Haller had valuable experience from her freshman year.
“She started as a freshman (last year),” North Marion coach Mike Parrish said of Haller. “She had a good season. She came on midway through the year and at the end of the year with sectionals and regionals.”
Parrish said he expected the 5-foot-6 guard to become more of a leader this season, and that’s exactly what she’s done.
Averaging 16.0 points per game, Haller has only had one game this season where she hasn’t been in double digits. She started the season with a 26-point performance against Berkeley Springs and hasn’t taken her foot off the gas pedal.
Though there are the inevitable flaws in her game, Parrish knows he’s got something good going.
The sophomore played only 15 minutes in the team’s three-point loss to AAA Wheeling Park this past Saturday, but she scored 14 points, speaking to her abilities.
“She’s been getting in foul trouble some games, so we’re looking for her to get out of that and keep her in the game a little longer,” Parrish said. “She’s one of the best shooters I’ve seen.”
Haller is indeed a game-changer, as she’s shooting a blistering 19-of-37 from behind the 3-point mark this season.
She’ll look to keep her current three-game stretch with double-figure points alive when the team travels to its Disney Tournament later this week.
Fairmont Senior’s Erica Bowles is just a freshman, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that if you watched her play.
The 5-foot-6 guard is one of many young talents on the Polar Bears’ roster, but coach Corey Hines knows he has a special player.
“She’s a very special kid but I didn’t expect for her to do some of the stuff she’s doing now,” Hines said. “She amazed me.”
Hines recalls coaching Bowles over the summer and in the fall before the real season kicked off, and he knew from the way she practiced that she had great potential.
“She came in and worked real hard but you never really know how a player is gonna play when the lights are on, but she did real well in the summer league,” the coach said. “The thing about her that surprised me the most is in those big moments, she’s not scared.”
Bowles proved that by dropping 20 points in a win over then-No. 2 North Marion early in the season.
But even though the freshman guard is averaging 13.0 points per game, Hines said it’s her ability to recognize that she can improve that makes her special.
The coach said that during a game over the summer, he drew up a play for Bowles to hit an important shot late in the game. She missed the shot, but how she responded let him know that she would go on to be a great player.
“She went home after that with her dad and shot about 200-300 jump shots,” Hines said.
Hines knows he has a plethora of young players who can step up, naming Abby Stoller and Coly Thorne alongside Bowles, and that helps his confidence as a coach when his older players go down.
But with Bowles, the way she’s been stepping up on and off the court has really impressed the coach.
“She’ll go home from practice and her dad said he’ll have to go out in the cold and he’ll have to rebound while she shoots,” he said. “She’s not just a player in the gym; she’s a player outside the gym.”
East Fairmont’s Felicity VanGilder has a chance to be one of the best post players in the Big 10 Conference, James Beckman said.
Beckman, who’s in his first season as coach of East Fairmont’s girls’ basketball program, said his center is really coming along.
“I knew she was capable of it,” Beckman said of VanGilder’s early success. “She’s blossomed into the player she’s supposed to be for our program.”
The 6-foot sophomore is averaging 12.4 points per game and started her season with a bang.
In the season’s first game against Lewis County, VanGilder had 25 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for VanGilder, Beckman said.
“She’s got some weaknesses she knows she needs to work on,” he said. “But she’s very coachable. She stays after practice and will ask questions about how to guard players or how to get open with the ball — just the little things.”
With such a young squad, Beckman said the team knows to play to what they do best.
“We play to her strengths,” he said. “The team knows to get her the ball. She has a chance to be one of the best post players out there. She’s not afraid and doesn’t back down.”
Being only a sophomore, Beckman believes the future is bright for VanGilder, and he looks forward to that future.
“She’s going to be with us for 2 1/2 more years, and that’s a blessing,” the coach said. “If she continues to adapt and catch on quickly, then she can teach our freshmen. By the time she’s a senior, it’ll be like having another coach.”
Email Matt Welch at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.