Starn

Fairmont Senior’s Emily Starn drives to the basket during a game last season at the 201st Fairmont Senior High School Field House.

FAIRMONT — Fairmont Senior star Marley Washenitz has succinctly stated the backbone of the Polar Bears' winning formula under head coach Corey Hines really since she entered into the program: 

"In girls basketball, the most aggressive teams win." 

The Polar Bears, over the course of Hines' illustrious decade-long tenure, have leveraged that simple, baseline thought into what has essentially been an annual state tournament appearance, four state title game appearances, and a pair of state championships in 2017 and 2019.

For years now, they've flustered opponents with a level of aggression and physicality few other teams in the state have been able to match. They pester opponents defensively with unrelenting full-court and half-court pressure tactics, they crash the boards hard on both ends, and they lay siege to the rim offensively via voluminous transition opportunities and gritty half-court rack attacks. 

Those core winning traits will again be at the forefront for Fairmont Senior this season, but unlike last season — one in which the Polar Bears still went 19-6 and made it to the state tournament — they'll be put to in-game use by a roster absolutely loaded with returning experience and complementary talents.

In Washenitz, fellow juniors Emily Starn and Laynie Beresford, and senior sharpshooter Bekah Jenkins, Fairmont Senior returns four of its five starters from last season, and with junior wing Reagan Blasher also back after playing heavy rotation minutes last year, including games where she closed in crunch time, the Polar Bears have a stellar front five.

Oh, and just in the case the rest of the state wasn't already quivering enough, the Polar Bears have also brought aboard Grafton junior transfer Meredith Maier, who was a Class AA all-state third team selection last season with the Bearcats. 

"The people that we have I'm really excited about them. We have basically five people with a lot of experience coming back, and then to have a player come in like Meredith, I feel as a program we're really fortunate," said Hines, who has compiled a 224-42 record (.842) in his 10 seasons as FSHS head coach. 

That top six of Washenitz, Starn, Beresford, Jenkins, Blasher and Maier can match any other team in the state regardless of classification no matter how one slices it, and, in accordance with that top-tier talent, the Polar Bears will enter the season as the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAA, according to the Associated Press preseason poll released Sunday night. 

Washenitz, Starn, Beresford, Jenkins and Blasher essentially made up five of the Polar Bears' top six players last season in terms of minutes played, and their wealth of experience playing together dates all the way back to elementary school. Even FSHS's new addition in Maier is beyond familiar with the ins and outs of that returning group after playing alongside pretty much of all them in AAU through the years. 

"I've played with Marley before, I've played with Emily, I've played with Bekah, I've played with everybody actually," Maier said with a laugh. "It's definitely a new environment, but I'm really enjoying it here. I hope I fit in pretty well."

"Oh, she is," Jenkins quickly quipped in response to Maier's hopes of seamlessly slotting into the Polar Bears. "She's caught on super quick, and it's like she's always been here. She's just an extra spark to our team." 

Maier will immediately bolster the Polar Bears in basically every department — as if they needed it — with perhaps her most crucial contribution, at least in terms of FSHS's championship ceiling, being how she'll improve the team's half-court offense when the game slows down and the forced turnovers dry up.

Elsewhere she'll slot tidily into the team's hallmark aggressive, pressure defense, both she, Jenkins and Washenitz said, and she might already be the Polar Bears' best rebounder, except for perhaps Washenitz, who is among the state's best players in a whole slew of categories. 

"I'd say it's just a different mentality here almost. I feel like we're just a family, and everybody is trying to win because we have a bigger goal in the long run," Maier said. "It's definitely been a change and like a snap to reality where I had to adapt really fast, but everyone took me in very well and I'm catching onto things."

With Maier added to the mix, Fairmont Senior firmly checks just about every box as a team. Washenitz and Starn are both capable lead ball handlers, and Maier and Jenkins also add plenty of off-the-bounce juice in transition as well as on catch-and-go drives.

Beresford and Maier can collectively muster enough of the interior toughness duties on both ends, especially with Washenitz always poking her nose into so many rebounding scuffles and loose ball battles. Jenkins, Blasher and Maier are all legit threats as catch-and-shoot knockdown shooters. And then on defense, well, you just don't really play much for the Polar Bears without bringing it on defense, and this entire core group is all about that in-your-face feistiness that has long been at the root of Fairmont Senior's championship ethos. 

"I feel like," Maier said, "it's just a different game of basketball (here)." 

Email Bradley Heltzel at bheltzel@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @bradheltzTWV.

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