|Lady Twisters starting from scratch |
|Having taken significant steps up the ladder of respectability the last two years, the Union City girls may find themselves down a few rungs this season. |
A year after directing the Lady Tornado program to its first district championship since the 1948-49 season, fifth-year head coach Jeff Chandler is faced with having to replace the program’s all-time leading scorer, starting point-guard and top rebounder for the coming 2007-08 campaign.
“We’ve won 41 games the last two years, played in two district championship games and advanced to the regional semifinals both times. And all nine girls who were mainly involved in us doing that have graduated or are not a part of this year’s team,” Chandler said of the rebuilding project he faces this season.
“Eleven of the 17 players on our roster are either freshmen or sophomores. We only have two players with much game experience. I know because of our athleticism, most people expect us to do well in the district, but if you look around, it isn’t necessarily the teams with the best athletes who are moving on to the regional tournament.
“I expect this year to be a huge challenge for us and there’ll be some growing pains. We may be toward the bottom when the season starts and then we’ll see how much progress we make. With the exception of Greenfield and Halls, everybody will be better than us starting out.”
Chandler must somehow fill the void left by four-year starter DeBrisha Robinson, the school’s all-time leading point-maker in the five-on-five era.
Robinson, who signed a scholarship and is playing at Columbia State, scored 1,539 points during her prep career and averaged 16 ppg last season when the Lady Tornadoes went 18-12 before losing in the regional semis to eventual state champion Gleason.
Gone via graduation, too, is dependable point-guard Brittany Taylor, a steadying influence out front.
And Chandler further thinned his ranks when he kicked off talented but troubled Labrica Ward from the team after her sophomore season in which she averaged 13 points and nine rebounds underneath, where she was often a dominating presence. The coach did leave the door open for Ward’s possible return next season.
No more Robinson, Taylor and Ward means that no returning player from last year’s team averaged more than four points-per-game, necessitating a change in style for the Lady Twisters this season.
Chandler said the team will press from end-to-end, hoping to create turnovers that result in easy offensive chances. He predicted, too, that his troops will rely heavily on the 3-point shot in a scheme that is becoming increasingly common in both girls’ and boys’ play.
Versatility will be the watchword for the UC girls this season with several players capable of filling multiple roles.
Point-guard Mary Steward, a five-foot senior, is expected to be a sparkplug after filling that purpose last season as a reserve. She will get help from sophomore Whitney Smith (5-5), a good shooter and defender, as well as freshman Shenisha Huff (5-9), a promising creator off the dribble.
Brittney Mitchell (5-4, Soph.) is small, but quick, and also expected to contribute at a guard spot.
Paige Fisher (5-4, Soph.) was identified by her coach as the “toughest player on the team” and one of its best shooters and defenders. She likely will see most of her time at the two-guard.
Three players are in the running for minutes at the small forward spot. Janea Brooks (5-2, Sr.), Doreal Strayhorn (5-4, Jr.) and Micah Warford (5-5, Soph.) each bring different strengths to the table with Strayhorn labeled a “scorer” by Chandler and Warford tagged as “by far the best athlete on the team,” according to her coach. Sonita McConnell (5-4, Jr.) might also be a part of the rotation.
Allison McCullough (5-9, Sr.), a returning frontcourt starter, will regularly draw the toughest defensive assignment and is both big enough and quick enough to be effective around the basket at either the four- or five-spot. She likely will be joined in that role and the starting lineup by the hustling Marcetta Ross (5-6, Jr.), who drew praise from Chandler for her defensive abilities.
Tkiara Davis (5-4, Fr.) has potential and could also get minutes at one of the forward spots or center.
“Our program is stable now in a lot of ways, but we still have a way to go in some other areas,” Chandler concluded. “Sometimes I still don’t think we get the respect we deserve within our own walls, but we get good community support and people are starting to come and watch our games.
“I believe we’re close to getting to the next level. We’ve had a good stretch the last two years and, if we can make it through this season, I think the next two or three we’ll get back to where we were the last two.”
Chandler identified Bradford, Lake County and Trenton as the teams to beat this season in District 14A.
The UC girls will open their season a week from tonight at Humboldt.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.