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ALBRIGHT: Mary O title doesn’t bother Shay-Lee Kirby at next level

Shay-Lee Kirby is a warrior on the basketball court. Coaches, players or onlookers taking in her mad skills on either the offensive or defensive end of any past game could see as much for themselves.

No scorer intimidates her when she’s guarding them.

No shot is too big for her to take on the other end of the court, either.

The West Virginia Sports Writers Association and state coaches were witnesses during her final season as a member of a dominant Parkersburg High School team. And this prowess anointed her as the best girls’ basketball player in the state via the 2019 Mary Ostrowski Award.

What this award also could have done was saddle her with a big mark on her back as a new member of the NCAA Division I Austin Peay program. Now Kirby would have to eat, sleep and breath opposing team’s game film, balance this with school, and match up against athletes of a similar caliber to her while bearing her title.

The truth is though, all these things didn’t faze her one bit. Forged in the fires of one of the top Amateur Athletic Union institutions, the West Virginia Thunder, and an impressive PHS program, Kirby never batted an eye. “Austin Peay ran the defense we ran in high school and I even helped others learn it as well so that helped too,” said Kirby.

“We try to get up and down the floor and we thought it was a good fit for her and a good fit for us,” said Austin Peay head coach David Midlick.

Maybe also it was the fact she had zero expectations other than doing well in practice and just playing in a few games.

Any way you slice it, Kirby came ready for duty on a daily basis. From the moment the first of her six 3s connected during her Governor’s debut against Kentucky Wesleyan, Parkersburg High’s all-time leading scorer quickly settled in to her new surroundings.

Her final triple that night on 6 of 8 shooting from deep netted her a career-high 21 points in just 23 minutes of action. In other words, when people talk about making a great introduction that performance was exactly what they meant.

Following one week later was her first of two “freshman of the week” honors after another few big games. And while her point totals (6.4 points per game) fluctuated from these contests and the opener against the Panthers, she intermittently mixed double-digit scoring in with an “already Division I game,” according to Midlick, over the remainder of the season.

This overall package secured her the most minutes for any freshman on Midlick’s squad — a privilege not requiring calculus to find the root cause…

“It was easy to get her out on the court with her talent and how hard she played. Playing time is earned and not given whether you are a freshman or a senior,” said Midlick. “She expected a learning curve but still earned the right to be on the floor. She plays the same way no matter the moment.”

It also nabbed her a piece of history.

Shooting an acceptable 30% from three-point land, Kirby secured the green light from behind the arc in the third quarter against Morehead State. What followed was the connection of the Governors’ 243rd triple of the season — a shot breaking the school’s single-season record and included as one of Kirby’s 45 made 3s of the campaign.

Despite the success, coach and player know there’s room for improvement on the hardwood. Both cited Kirby continuing to increase her comfort handling the basketball serves in adding another dimension to a player Midlick shared “was a big part of us having an 18-win season this year.”

“It is hard to get in the gym now, but Austin Peay recruited me for a reason and I obviously will work on my game in the offseason,” said Kirby. “Honestly, I can’t wait to get back out there.”

Seeing how much she improved from year one to year two as a Big Red, I can’t wait either.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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