Friendly competition is a concept the Middleton sisters, Kennedy and Isabellah, have known for their entire lives. Being close as siblings allowed them to creating an “iron sharpens iron” bond, where they consistently make each other stronger. Isabellah Middleton shared how comfortably they are expressing in-game adjustments and corrections with themselves during play.
“We are broad-headed in the game,” Isabellah Middleton said.
Both sisters went to Tuscarora high school, where they played basketball together for two seasons. Kennedy averaged 20.7 points throughout her high school career while also capturing first-team all-state and first-team all-conference honors, being a member of three conference championship teams, and playing for four district title winners.
During Isabellah’s high school career, she lettered four times in basketball while also lettering once in lacrosse, earning all-district and all-region honors during every season she played in, and being named All-LoCo Sports Girls Basketball Player of the Year as a high school senior when she averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds per game.
All these years of playing together gave the Middletons the opportunity to always stay correcting the other’s shortcomings while maintaining strengths. They also saw this as an opportunity to challenge themselves to be better than the other. When other people were taking breaks over each offseason, the Middletons both had their sister to look at, holding them accountable and keeping them working.
“We’re competing with each other even when we’re on the same team,” Isabellah Middleton said.
This competition did not come without humor. Isabellah shared that her sister has one thing she will always be able to hold over her, and that is being just over one year older. When Kennedy referenced this, Isabellah responded sarcastically, sharing, “It’s her favorite thing to tell people.”
Jokes aside, the increasingly competitive field at the collegiate level has fueled the fire of their motivation to get better while also teaching different ways to view and play basketball.
“It [Slippery Rock University] made me explore different ways to impact the game,” Kennedy Middleton said.
The Rock squad has bonded together over the past year, both out of created friendships and necessity. Beloved former head coach Bobby McGraw passed away over the offseason after manning the helm of the women’s team for eight years. The coaching staff and team won’t soon forget the principles he instilled in them during his tenure.
Isabellah commented on the ferocity Coach McGraw always drew out of his players. He wanted them to play hard in practice so they could compete to their fullest extent in games. Referring to the practices, they were, “High intensity all the time,” in the words of Isabellah Middleton. This mentality made the team become even more of a family. All they wanted was to see each other succeed.
“I really want my teammates to get better… you can’t win by yourself,” Isabellah Middleton said.
Of course, Kennedy had the same experience with the effort Coach McGraw got out of each and every player, but she developed in other ways under Coach McGraw as well.
“Playing under McGraw gives you a different look at what a coach is,” Kennedy Middleton said. “Coach McGraw was not just a coach… I needed someone who could help me grow as a person.”
And grow she did. She grew as both a player and a mentor to her peers. The sisters have both been comfortable calling themselves out and complimenting successes for years. Both sisters commented on how that has opened up the team to difficult conversations that might not have been had otherwise. The Middletons have excelled at keeping everyone accountable and playing their best.
“We talk to everybody… We keep it real with everybody,” Isabellah Middleton said.
By all accounts, these conversations have worked. Slippery Rock women’s basketball has exploded out to a 5-1 start, putting them well into PSAC tournament contention early. Both sisters commented on teammates stepping up this season.
“Deleah has really stepped up, and what we’ve seen from Bella Long,” Isabellah Middleton said. “Everyone being able to have the ball in their hands more and just play their own game has contributed to that[success].”
“The goal is to be number one… If you’re not gonna work then you’re gotta sit the bench,” Kennedy Middleton said.
All the players have been made aware that there are roles to be filled, whether that is as a starter or a role player off the bench. Falling into the necessary and needed roles has been crucial to team success. Kennedy explained how current Head Coach Chenara Wilson has adopted this gameplan.
“Emphasis on doing their job,” Kennedy Middleton said. “It could be the third quarter and they haven’t played all game and coach Wilson will say, ‘I need you to get in the game and I need you to rebound, I need you to get in the game and I need you to play defense.’”
This execution has not been done by accident. It was the goal from the start to form The Rock into a well-oiled machine that can transition players in and out of games as needed. These values have been reflected in practices to be incorporated into every game.
“When the people come [off the bench] and do their job, I see what we’re working on in practice and I can see it’s coming over,” Kennedy Middleton said.
That teamwork in tandem with being adaptable and accepting of Coach Wilson’s coaching strategies has helped the team transition with things like losing last year’s leading point scorer Jamiyah Johnson, who has stuck with the team as a graduate assistant. Isabellah has done her best to learn from the things that made Johnson such a great player.
“There’s no playing like her[Jamiyah]. She was going to do what she had to do to accomplish what she needed to accomplish,” Isabellah Middleton said.
Kennedy commented on two strengths she always observed from Johnson and another student that graduated this past year, Daeja Quick.
“If Deija was anything she was confident 100%,” Kenney Middleton said. “Jamiyah’s presence was always known on the court.”
This season, Kennedy has been an offensive force. She has averaged 14 points per game while leading her squad with 20 assists. Despite already being in the process a greatly successful season, she wants to incorporate the values she admired from former players into her game.
“Those two things, once I really get them locked into my game, they can take me to the next level,” Kennedy Middleton said.
Isabellah has not been anything short of a playmaker either. She leads the team with 120 points scored. She attributes much of this success to her sister always pushing her, even if that sometimes meant speaking the harsh truth about how to play better.
“The expectations are so much higher,” Isabellah Middleton said. “We’re not about to be friends right now.”
Everything is looking up right now, but the season is only partially complete. Both sisters shared how they believe they stack up to any of the competition they might come up against as well as their aversion to losing.
“I’m a sore loser. We have the ability to not lose,” Kennedy Middleton said.”
Isabellah doubled down on this. She fully intend to back up The Rock’s confidence with their play and carry it to a deeply successful season moving forward.
“I’m trying to win everything,” Isabellah Middleton said.