After last weekend’s all-city jamboree and the first few non-league games have taken place, local girls basketball squads are beginning to get a look at how their seasons might go, and who will be some of their key players. The beginning of the season is always a time for optimism, and we spoke with local coaches to see how their teams are coming together this year.
The Rams return four starters off a squad that advanced to the state regional playoffs last year, and will look to build off that success this season. Headlining the group is senior center Tia Briggs, the reigning Narrows 3A MVP, and all-league first-team senior guards Kaysha Fox and Bethany Montgomery. “At least early on, there’s a mature level of responsibility about them,” said head coach Michelle Birge. “The veterans are very strong. They’re very focused and very determined this year.” Senior guard Carsen Stanley adds to the experience in the starting lineup, and Justina Laney and Salina Bradford will contribute as well. The Rams will also feature some talented youth, as Birge noted that sophomore forward Kapri Morrow and freshman guard Kira Knox should force their way into the rotation.
The Abes return a trio of solid starters, including leading scorer and all-league second-team wing/post Precious Hunkin, as the senior will be expected to lead the squad again. Joining her will be all-league honorable mention point guard Ki’Renee Armstrong and junior post Breneya Johnson, who will have Lincoln aiming for a postseason spot. Head coach Cal Jean-Lloyd noted there also is a solid group of young players, including freshman post Tamia Braggs, who should contribute quite a bit. Jean-Lloyd also noted that with the leadership of the veteran players, the group has bonded quickly, is very coachable and will focus on the little things to be successful. “If you play tough defense and make the freebee (baskets) and make the layups, you’re going to give yourself a chance in every game,” Jean-Lloyd said. “That’s where I’m going to keep our focus.”
The Falcons will be relatively small in size and numbers, but do return some experience in senior post Shelondra Harris and senior guard Pawarisa Onmun. Junior post Gina Leber also returns to give the Falcons a solid starting group. “One of their biggest strengths is going to be that they trust each other,” said Falcons head coach Jeff Ptolemy. “The core group here is really on each other’s side. That’s really going to help.” Ptolemy noted the work ethic of the group as a whole is solid, and sophomore Marilyn Thai is a solid ball handler and should be in the mix at point guard.
MOUNT TAHOMA The Thunderbirds look to again be guard-heavy, returning seniors Tanisha Lopez and Ashley Keyes – a slasher who can drive to the rim. Junior Shakira Ruffin has good ball skills and can hit from three-point range, while junior Jea’Ohnna Lee and freshman Leah Brooks add to the depth at guard. Junior Rejie Wright brings experience in the post, but the Thunderbirds will be fairly undersized and will look to rely on forcing turnovers. “We’re going to have to be a little bit better on the defensive end because we have a height disadvantage against everyone,” said head coach Calvin McHenry.
The Lions graduated some key seniors, but will still have plenty of skill and depth, led by senior all-league second-team guard Sydney Swofford and senior post Ionna Price. Junior point guard Jasmyne Holmes is a solid floor general, and sophomore Claire Martin’s 6-foot-3 frame should dominate in the middle. Junior Kelsy McElroy adds to the depth at guard, and multi-sport standout Courtney Schwan returns to the team and adds size in the frontcourt. “We’re still going to be an attacking type of team, but I think our strength lies in the half court now,” said head coach Kevin Meines. “Our size is going to cause problems for people.” Meines noted that sophomore Shelby Gavigan and freshman Jayana Ervin are youngsters who should contribute as well.
The Tigers will look for leadership from four-year varsity player Carli Hallis, who is a great rebounder and shot blocker in the post. Senior guard Nerissa Williams also returns, and junior guard Angela Yun will help form a solid backcourt. The Tigers have solid varsity experience, as junior guard Amber Longrie, junior guard Jordan Sallee, junior forward Shaya Murray and senior forward Kallie Broughton are a deep supporting cast. Head coach Mark Stewart added that freshman Kristi Williams is making a push to see serious time at guard. “We’re hoping that we are prepared for every defense we could face,” said Stewart, adding the key will be “getting easy baskets and getting the ball inside.”
The Eagles should feature a good blend of experience and youth, as senior Grace Bouffiou will lead the squad from the wing, and junior Johnnise Moore also returns at the post. But a trio of quickly improving sophomore guards – Taylor Boles, Maddy Long and Katie Anderson – will provide skill and athleticism on the outside as the team looks to build on a district playoff appearance. “We’re going to have more balanced offense,” said head coach Robert Normandeau. “Last year we didn’t have much inside play.” Normandeau added that a strong summer will hopefully springboard a solid season, and that freshman point guard Carli Ricker and freshman post Courtney Youngblood are quickly getting into the mix as well.
The Crusaders have had some attrition for various reasons and are small in numbers, but will rely on 6-foot junior post Sarah Zeitler, who is skilled in the middle. Also returning is senior guard Becca McDonald, who is quick and will look to guide the offense. But the team will be young in areas, as freshman guard Ashley Brooks, freshman wing Jennifer Brooks and freshman post Jane Cooksley are promising but will need to gain valuable experience. “They’ve got to develop,” said head coach Josh Narayan. “It will take a little bit of time. (But) I think we really will surprise some people in the league. I’ve got smart kids.”
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