BOONE — Call it the confidence of March. Call it the emergence of a new leader. Or just call it the evolution of a player.
For Appalachian State women’s basketball, the recent play of Pre Stanley is rippling both short- and long-term success through the walls of the Holmes Convocation Center.
Take Monday night (the short term): Stanley, a sophomore guard, scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting. She led the Mountaineers (20-14) to a 83-71 victory against Marshall to push Appalachian into the WBI semifinals, where it will face Campbell on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Boone.
But long-term, she’s ushering in the next era of leadership. It’s something Coach Angel Elderkin has seen building in the last couple of weeks.
“In huddles, she’s driving the bus,” Elderkin said. “She’s talking, she’s getting her teammates in the right spots. She’s slowly developing into that role.
“Every time out she’s locked in. I mean, today she came by the office, scouting report in hand. What do I need to do with my teammates? How do we need to be?”
Stanley has been a double-digit scorer in the Mountaineers' last seven games. In App State’s last, on March 20 against UNC Asheville, she hit the go-ahead 3-pointer of a 57-55 victory that featured shutdown defense from the shifty guard.
In that game, Elderkin noticed Stanley struggling against the Bulldogs' defense as they switched around screens. The coach worried about a recurring trend against Marshall. But that worry was quelled soon after the opening tip and killed in the second half.
Stanley scored 21 of her points in the final two frames, including 13 in the fourth quarter. She hit back-to-back layups (the first of which turned into a three-point play thanks to a circus reverse finger roll) near the start of the quarter. She continued to pile on from there as the Mountaineers fought off the hot-shooting Thundering Herd that forced one-possession leads multiple times.
Playing at high speed has never been an issue for Stanley. The difficult part has been the vocal part of leadership. But as the goal of championships appeared ahead — first while trying to make a run in the Sun Belt, and now the WBI — Stanley found comfort in her voice a bit more.
“I tend to only speak up when I feel it’s needed to be. I don’t like to be a nagging person because then you have teammates that will just think you’re coming at them, coming at them,” Stanley said. “So when you speak when it’s necessary, a lot of times, it’s heard and people want to listen and also like follow.
“So, I don’t know, I just speak when I feel like I should.”
Madi Story, a senior who’s career is winding down, and Bayley Plummer both confirmed that notion. Stanley’s voice, especially during these postseason stretches have been welcomed and necessary.
It’s added more of a backbone to the 12-win improvement the team made from last season. In Story’s career, she’s never seen more than 14 wins in a season. For Plummer, a junior post player, 12 wins here freshman year were the former highlight. The improvement has hinged on the words of Stanley and others.
“Pre can definitely connect to some of the people,” Plummer said. “I feel like we just know each other pretty well. When something needs to be said, I say it or Pre says it, so I don’t know, I just feel like everyone’s coming together and clicking at the right time.”
App State is two wins away from claiming the WBI for the second time. The Mountaineers won the inaugural tournament in 2010. With every positive step forward, Elderkin keeps asking her players for more dedication. And to do that this season, it will require two more stellar showings from Stanley, as well as the focus the team’s found behind her.
“There’s something that she wants, and (she’s) not letting anything get in her way,” Elderkin said. “But I’m just really really proud of this group. To go from winning eight games last year to see 20 wins, it’s just such a big step for our program.
“Like I said to them just now: we can’t be content with that. We’ve got to continue to want more, deserve more and earn more, and tonight we earned 40 more minutes.”