Friday, November 25, 2011

Lady Rockets prepare to defend title

After cutting down an unprecedented three nets in three tournaments last season and making the school's first trip to the Girls' Sweet Sixteen, Crittenden County's Lady Rockets are now reloading with a focus on another winning season. 

Despite graduating four of her starters, Lady Rocket coach Shannon Hodge is confident in her returning players to make history once again. 

Last year, Crittenden won the Fifth District championship for the first time since 1984. Hodge said repeating that is one of her team's goals.

"I enjoyed that history-making of winning the district title and we want to make it two in a row," Hodge said. "I think we have just as good of a shot as anyone in the district."

District archrival Livingston Central returns most of its players from last season. Hodge said the Lady Cardinals are the team to beat at this point. The Lady Rockets have several challenges ahead of them, returning only one starter and having just one senior on the team. However, Hodge believes last year's success and title run put her younger players ahead of the curve.

"Even if some of the returning players weren't the ones on the floor at the time, I think that experience changed them in their thinking," Hodge said.

"They had an experience that a lot of kids haven't had and my expectations are high."

Hodge hopes her young squad picked up valuable lessons from players who graduated. The hard work they put in paid off and she said this group must understand and continue the effort so good things will happen. If they keep the standard high, she believes this team will come out of the gates competitive and confident. 

"I think we may be a team that is searching for its identity at first," she said. "We will have to figure out how to put all the pieces together."

The offensive reigns fall squarely in the hands of 5-foot-7 sophomore Bailey Brown. She is the Lady Rockets' lone returning starter who averaged 7.3 points per game as a combo guard last season, running the point at times but mainly serving as the team's shooting guard.

Hodge said Brown will have to take a leadership role on the floor. She says the talented sophomore has the ability to do just that. 

"She has matured physically by leaps and bounds in the last six months," Hodge said. "The challenge now is for her to understand what I'm wanting and what it will take."

Mary Mattingly, a 5-foot-8 senior forward, will be the team's main post presence offensively and defensively. Hodge said Mattingly has to be able to score and rebound consistently and play well defensively against bigger post players. Hodge said Brown will draw a lot of attention and Mattingly has to be ready in the paint to take advantage of scoring opportunities.

"As our senior you expect a lot from her and I think she's got to get six to 10 points and rebounds a game for us," Hodge said. "Mary is a workhorse. She plays hard and will do what she has to do helping Bailey keep us all going in the same direction."

Davana Head, a 5-foot-9 junior, has the ability to be someone who helps pick up the scoring load. She can score inside and out, off the pass or dribble. Hodge has pushed Head in practice to be more consistent on defense.

"Davana can provide us with a nice matchup because she can play on the perimeter and she is taller than most people that will be defending her," Hodge said. 

Randa Leidecker, a 5-foot-6 junior, is someone who makes something happen when she is on the floor. She is always around the ball and Hodge is challenging her to buckle down on defense. She has good hands to get deflections and has the ability to shoot the three and run the fast break.

Maggie Collins, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, has to gain confidence offensively, but has the ability to get the six to 10 points a game along with picking up the same number of rebounds. Hodge was really impressed with Collins' defense in the post this summer, frustrating opponents with her aggressiveness. 

"I think she will be the person who will draw the tougher defensive assignment in the post because she is taller than Mary," Hodge said.
Kaitlin Binkley, a 5-foot-3 junior, is a good set shooter for whom plays will be designed. The coach expects her to get plenty of open looks at the basket from the three-point line. Binkley will back up Brown at point guard.

Chelsea Oliver, a 5-foot-8 freshman, is a pure athlete with raw potential, the coach said. When Oliver matures as a player, and gets everything together, she will really help the team out, Hodge said.

"She is very coachable and does whatever I ask her to do," Hodge said.
Juniors Taylor Lynch and Summer Phillips were junior varsity players last year and Hodge said they have to come out every day and battle in practice. 

"Summer plays really hard and has made improvements. She is really quick," Hodge said. "Taylor has good size and can help us in the post as she progresses."

Sophomores Ruth Gobin and Breanna Ford saw action this summer with the varsity squad, and may compete for playing time, Hodge said.

Mallory McDowell, a 5-foot-2 freshman, is described by Hodge as the Lady Rockets' next true point guard. 

"When she turns it loose and plays, she makes good things happen," Hodge said. "As the year progresses, she will come in and see some playing time. As she begins to learn the offense, she will have the ability to help us."

The Lady Rocket skipper believes her team has the physical capabilities to be very competitive. The mental approach is where she thinks the team faces the greatest challenge. 

"We have to discipline ourselves to be a good defensive team because that will create offense for us," Hodge said. "We have to have individuals willing to play within themselves and do what they are capable of doing. We have the pieces, but must have the patience to let it all come together."

Coach Hodge, who has won 208 of 469 games at Crittenden County, will be assisted by Heather Boone and Bristyn Prowell.

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