By Rob Patrick
Head coach Brad Matthews and the Bryant Lady Hornets basketball team take a big step in[more] the process of getting acquainted this evening at 5 p.m., when they take on the West Memphis Lady Blue Devils in a pre-season game at the Hornets’ Nest.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Matthews said late last week, “to get started and kind of see where we’re at. We’ve been working hard and getting after it since the first day of school. We’ve got a lot of changes, a new coach and a lot of players playing different roles than they have been accustomed to in the past. I think our kids are excited about that.”
At the end of last season, it looked like the Lady Hornets would be returning four starters and eight of their top nine players from a team that went 18-10 and made the Class 7A State Tournament.
But for one reason or another, three of those four returning starters are no longer on the team. So junior guard Kiara Moore is the only returning starter. Also returning are senior Callie Hogancamp and juniors Whitney Meyer, Logan Davis, and Courtney Davidson who were the first four off the bench.
Also returning are senior Brittney Ball and juniors Haley Murphy, Lauren Buck, and Kristen Scarlett. New to the team are sophomores Destin Nichols, Dezarea Duckworth, Peyton Weaver, Aubree Allen, Taneasha Rhode, and Erica Smith.
“Every team’s excited at the start of a season,” continued Matthews who will be assisted by Monica Parish. “Our kids are kind of getting a fresh start with new roles, new responsibilities and a new outlook on things.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he acknowledged. “But Tuesday night will be the first step into that. We get to play somebody else. We’ve been playing each other for a long time now.
“It’s a good way to get started,” mentioned the coach. “West Memphis has good talent, great tradition, some tremendous post players and it’ll be a great challenge for us. We’re playing in the 7A-Central so we’re going to see that every night. This will give us a baseline to work from and we’ll go from there.”
Matthews was hired last spring after three years as the head coach at Benton Harmony Grove. He arrived in time to work with his team during the summer.
“It went well,” he said. “We made some progress then but, you know, playing in summer’s a lot different than practicing. That’s what we needed and still need is just practice, practice, practice; rep, rep, rep, rep. And, with that, comes confidence. You know, you have to have success in reps before you can have success, before you can build that self-confidence.
“I think we have some kids that are more than capable of doing some things they’ve never done before, of filling some big shoes,” Matthews asserted. “But our kids just need to have a little success, leading to that confidence then just building on that and building on that.
“And we’ve got some big shoes to fill just in terms of the obvious, scoring,” he added. “But also, when you lose kids like those that were here, it just changes the whole dynamic of your team and changes the responsibilities of the other kids. I think that’s what’s exciting. We have some that are more than capable, it’s just that they’ve never been asked to do that, they’ve never had to do it before.”
Asked about his team’s strengths, Matthews said, “Right now, I think our guards are probably the strength of our team right now but, once again, we have some kids in the post who are going to have to grow up in a hurry. We’ll get a dose of it against West Memphis because they have a couple of dominant post kids.
“We’ve just got to grow and mature and understand,” he explained. “It’s one thing to be a role player. It’s another thing to be the one that’s got to carry the water.”
Matthews said he hasn’t settled on a rotation of players yet. As of Friday, he said, he didn’t know who was starting against West Memphis.
“I have an idea,” he related. “There’s maybe two or three spots there but, after that, it’s wide open. That’s what we’ll use November and December for, kind of trying to get the minutes organized and see who’s going to play when. We’re not necessarily going to have a set rotation but we’ll get an idea of who can give us what kind of minutes, what combinations work well together, what strengths do we have when this kid’s out or that kid’s out.
“Those are things that a lot of people don’t think of but, just interchanging one role player with another role player can make a big difference,” the coach concluded. “We’ve got to use these early games not only to improve and not only to win but we’ve got to work out a lot of the balance issues of our responsibilities and roles and things like that.”
The Lady Hornets begin the season in earnest on Thursday, Nov. 17 against Sheridan.