BLOOMFIELD — For a school that typically plays some of the biggest schools in the state, the first game for several Ottumwa High School basketball players took place Saturday in a much more intimate setting.
"It was pretty hot inside that gym," OHS freshman Miya Fuller said after playing her first high school basketball game on the floor of the Davis County Mustangs. "The court definitely felt a lot smaller."
In what might prove to be a landmark day for the Bulldog girls basketball program, seven freshmen took part in the junior varsity's season opener on Saturday. Originally scheduled to open on Monday at Fort Madison, the Ottumwa JV instead tipped off the 2021-22 campaign two days earlier battling Davis County's junior varsity girls, a team that also had a gap to fill in the schedule due to a lack of numbers leading to New London only being able to field a varsity team this season.
The same can be said for Fort Madison. The Bloodhounds, coming off a 17-win season, has just nine players that will be part of this year's program limiting the defending Southeast Conference champions to a lone varsity team this season.
It may be a common theme this season for the largest class of the current Ottumwa basketball program. With several schools struggling with numbers, there may be several games the first-year Bulldogs participate in that aren't currently on the schedule.
"It was a great early-season experience these kids. The more we play, the better we're going to get," OHS head girls basketball coach Joe VandenBerg said. "Any experience we can get them is good. We've picked up a couple games here and there. I've also talked to a couple coaches about picking up a few more. We may get to bring in Davis County for a game at our place later this year. It's a chance to fill in the gaps in our schedules.
"The more we can get on the court, the more we're going to learn."
With seven of their 16 players represented by the freshman class, the future is bright for the Ottumwa High School girls basketball program. Saturday's game was a tense affair with Ottumwa and Davis County battling deep into the fourth quarter with the score tied at 26-26.
Ultimately, the Mustangs went 8-10 from the foul line over the final 2:23 to earn a 34-28 win. Nellie Morgan scored Ottumwa's only field goal over the final five minutes, sinking a 3-pointer to close out the game.
Laynee Moore led Davis County with a game-high 12 points in the opening game for the area JV squads. Fuller scored eight points for the Bulldogs, leading the first of many potentially many games over the next four years for the newest members of the OHS girls basketball program.
"There's no hesitation from the freshmen right now, which is pretty amazing," OHS returning varsity starter Olivia Coram said. "I remember as a freshman, it was not that easy. I feel like these freshmen are going to understand the pace of the game so much better. It's going to benefit us in the long run."