FAIRMONT – It’s easy to overlook Fairmont Senior High’s Makayla Lilley on the hardwood.
That’s not particularly a bad thing. It certainly doesn’t come from a lack of talent or stature on Lilley’s part. But when you’re a role player and just the fifth-leading scorer on a defending state championship team, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle.
But there are plenty of reasons for fans of girls’ prep basketball and Fairmont Senior — as well as the Polar Bears’ opponents — to keep an eye on Lilley when she’s in the game. Because while she might not light up the scoreboard like some of her teammates, she brings a presence to the post that has a dynamic impact on her team.
“I know what I have to do to help my team, and I try my hardest to do what I need to do to help them and try and be a leader for them,” she said.
“You know, honestly, she is a difference maker on our team and we tell her that every day. She’s one of the ones that I know as time goes on she’s going to keep getting better as she gets into better shape. I’m really impressed with her performance lately,” said Corey Hines, Fairmont Senior High’s head girls basketball coach.
Lilley’s ability as a game-changer comes in large part from her physicality and rebounding ability. Last Thursday, the senior tallied 10 rebounds against cross-town rival East Fairmont — all of them coming in the first half as the Polar Bears stormed to a 27-15 halftime lead that would help them control the game and eventually earn the victory as the Bees mounted a second-half comeback.
While Lilley didn’t have her number called on by Hines as much in the team’s weekend battle with Big 10 rival Bridgeport, she still recorded a pair of rebounds in her time on the floor as the Polar Bears fought to an overtime victory.
Lilley credits her ability on the glass to a variety of factors, such as timing on staying disciplined in boxing out opponents, but she believes a strong rebounding performance comes primarily from being mentally prepared and tough.
“You just have to put in your head that I have to go and get this rebound so we can get down the floor and score some points, or I need to get this rebound so we can do whatever we need to do,” she said.
“From there you just have to want it, and know when to go up and get, and get a body on someone, no matter how many people are around you.”
Building the mentality necessary to be a top-tier rebounder doesn’t come easily for many students of the game, but Lilley said that the atmosphere and competition inside the recently successful Fairmont Senior program has helped tremendously in being able to foster such mental toughness.
“In practice, we have competitions against each. We know we have to make each other better in practice in games we will do better. It’s great to be around — it comes from people who were in this program before, from when I was a freshman all the way up. They taught us how we need to act and play, and that really shows how we push each other to do the same thing,” Lilley said.
While she continues to contribute solid minutes and a dynamic presence inside the paint for a team which once again is looking to make a run to the state tournament, Hines expects her to continue to play even stronger as her physical conditioning improves, which he sees as her main weakness. Lilley’s work ethic is certainly not lacking, though, and Hines believes she will continue to surprise opponents as she works to improve that facet of her game.
“The only thing she needs to do is get into a little bit better shape than she’s currently in — and she’s staying after practice to run and do everything else she can to help make us better. She’s going to be an even bigger difference maker down the line,” he said.