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By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
When Payton Littlefield started her varsity career she was an eight-grader, up on varsity for her shooting skills.

Over the past few years the sophomore has grown and expanded her game, and now she’s one of the best all-around scorers in the area.

“I have really seen her grow,” Edison coach Chris Mallette said. “I brought her up as an eighth grader because we desperately needed her shooting. As an eighth grader I had a senior point guard and she (Littlefield) kind of played off the ball and she was a three-point shooter and didn’t look to drive a lot and she was a three-point specialist. But, now she’s playing the point guard and she’s driving to the hoop, she’s an extremely better player than she was as an eighth grader.”

As the years go on Littlefield has seen teams key on her more, so she knows she has to work harder to get herself open.

“I really have to work hard to get myself open and take tough shots, but I think we are doing a great job,” Littlefield said.

There has been a lot of work put in by Littlefield as she’s worked to become an all-around scorer.

“I work really hard in the gym to use other ways to score other than just jump shooting,” she said. “I have gotten a lot stronger this past year. I am working a lot harder in the gym and have been able to add other parts to my game.”

Driving inside more means that Littlefield has to take some hits inside, but when she does she knows she has teammates to knock down shots.

“It definitely is (hard), but I have great outside shooters who can knock down shots when I can’t, or when I’m getting hammered in the post,” Littlefield said.

One of the key’s to Littlefield’s game is her consistency. The sophomore has scored in double figures in every game this season.

“She finds a way to score,” Mallette said. “Some nights it might be relying on foul shots, some nights it’s her outside shot and she can get as hot as any girl I’ve seen. She finds a way to score for us every single night.”

“It’s nice having her. She’s finding a way to get her 15 to 17 a night, which we need, and the rest of the girls are learning how to play off her. They are stepping up and at least one or two are scoring in double figures as well. The nice thing is it’s a different person acc night so every team is keying on her, but every night I have three or four girls who can score in double figures.”

For Littlefield, it is all about her teammates that makes her more consistent.

“It’s awesome (she said of consistently getting double figures), but I just keep working hard and use my teammates,” Littlefield said. “I try and keep myself Humber and work hard all the time. I use Gianna (McGee) and Gabby (Milazzo) and all our other shooters.”

Being part of a team that gets along so well makes things special for Littlefield.

“Our team is so close, we are all really close friends, we have been friends forever, it’s great to be able to play with people I enjoy,” Littlefield said. “Everyone knows their role on this team, we do a really good job helping each other, assisting each other and getting shooters the ball and getting rebounds.”

For Mallette this is a group that gets along well and just plays the game.

“This group is very fun because it’s kind of the first group I had,” he said. “I know on teams sometimes you get those little clicks, but this team really likes each other and they get along. They are always positive, it makes it positive for me. I never have to deal with any of that outside stuff, I just coach.

“They show up every day and they give me their all and they would run through a wall for me. They play hard, they play a lot of minutes, luckily we have stayed out of foul trouble this year, which is a big thing to.”

And, while the lineup has talent, it’s also a very small lineup, meaning every girl has to contribute.

“Some of them don’t play a lot here or there, then there is a game like Tioga, I had girls go down so I only had six girls and I had one foul out in the third quarter, so it’s kind of every girl you are on deck so if I need you I’m calling your number so bring it.”

Early in the year Littlefield was the primary ball handler.

It’s a role she excels in, but as an elite shooter, it’s easier if you can also play off the ball and come off screens to get good shots.

When Gianna McGee came back off injury it allowed Littlefield to shift back to playing off the ball for stretches of games.

“It really helps that Gianna is back and Maren (Lutz) does a great job setting ball screens to help get me open shots,” Littlefield said.

For Mallette it’s nice having the other ball handler in the backcourt.

“It’s extremely good to have G back,” Mallette said. “I’d prefer to not have Payton play the point guard, bu I don’t mind, she needs to play point guard some. But, when they can both play it and play off each other it’s really hard to stay in front of both of them, unless the other team has two really good defenders. One of them is always getting in the lane so it puts a lot of pressure on the defense, so it’s a big key to our winning streak having her back.”

The team’s two losses this year came against two of the best teams in the IAC, Newark Valley and Waverly. While both losses were pretty big losses without McGee. The Spartans know that they are a better team when they have McGee back giving them another ball handler, and just another girl in general with a small roster.

“It was very tough, Newark Valley and Waverly are very good teams, they are the class of the IAC in my opinion,” Mallette said. “Not only were they pressing us, and it wasn’t only not having a second ball handler, it was not having another body. I thought we did alright, but by the third quarter we were playing with six girls so we were just gassed against their relentless pressure the whole game.”

The Spartans aren’t the biggest team size wise, but Littlefield knows that the team’s post players do a good job inside.

“Maren and Haper (Hoffman) and all our other bigs do a great job boxing out and getting rebounds and kicking out,” Littlefield said. “Everyone is doing a really good job and everyone knows their role.”

One of the smaller players on the court is Milazzo on the perimeter, but she works hard and has been a key contributor for the Spartans.

“Gabby has done a really good job this year advancing her game, she works hard and is enjoying it,” Littlefield said.

The Spartans roster is a young one.

Littlefield is just a sophomore, McGee is a junior, both Hoffman and Milazzo are also sophomores, along with Mariana Jones. The team has just two seniors in Lutz and Lexi Moore.

For the Spartans it could be a strong few years.

“I am very excited, I think there are some kids if they show up and work in the summer should help us out and I don’t think we are going anywhere as long as she’s (Littlefield) around.

“She’s definitely our staying influence on the court and she makes everyone else’s job easier out there.”

For Littlefield this season has been special.

“It’s awesome, we’ve been doing great and our coaches and everyone in the student section has been great,” Littlefield said “Keeping our energy up and it’s great tow in because we’ve had some rough seasons in the past.”

After a shortened season last year, without fans, it’s special for the Spartans to be back in front of their fans now.

“It’s awesome, we kind of got screwed last year and I was missing basketball and I’m glad we are getting in games and I hope that continues,” Littlefield said. “It was silent in the gym, it’s good we have got fans and got our student section and energy is high.”

Outside of high school Littlefield works on her game playing travel for the Elmira Fusion.

“I have great teammates on my fusion team who have made me a better player and added more aspects to my game,” Littlefield said.

Her AAU team includes a lot of bigger school athletes, as well as a lot of the other top IAC girls. Littlefield plays on travel with a lot of the stars of the Newark Valley team that  the Spartans face in the IAC.

Playing with other IAC kids in travel can make things different when they play against each other for their high schools.

“They are still intimidating (the Newark Valley players), I love all the Newark Valley kids, they are awesome,” Littlefield said. “It’s fun, but some of them know my game so they work on ways to stop me so I have to use my teammates to keep getting open shots.”

While some of those girls on other teams may know Littlefield’s game, she also knows how they play.

“It helps me and I can tell my teammates how to defend them,” she said.

While she has two more years in high school after this season, Littlefield is starting to think about playing in college.

“I do want to play when I get out of high school,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m looking at, but maybe something good. I’m working hard.

“I go to showcases and clinics and camps and I talk to coaches on social media so I just keep doing my thing.”
IN TOP PHOTO: Edison’s Payton Littlefield. . . PHOTOS BY BRIAN FEES

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