A Look at the 2007-08 SFA Ladyjacks
Oct. 25, 2007
NACOGDOCHES - SFA head coach Lee Ann Riley is facing a situation that anyone who hangs around the coaching game long enough eventually runs into. As she enters her seventh season on the Ladyjack bench, Riley will be coaching one the youngest teams of her career. The Ladyjacks return only five letterwinners from last year's 21-12 team that advanced the WNIT. Depending on one's personality will decide whether you see the cup half full or half empty. As for Riley, she chooses the former.
"I just want to be a Southland Conference Champion, and that is how this team feels coming into the season," said Riley. "I believe that kids will rise to the opportunities they are given. Our players are hungry for the opportunity to step up, and I'm excited about the season."
With six new faces on the 2007-08 roster, the youthful Ladyjacks will have to look to the few returning veterans for leadership as they transition from high school seniors to college freshmen. There may not be a better class of returnees in the conference from whom to learn, than the Ladyjacks' returning five. During the past two seasons, SFA has recorded back-to-back 20-win seasons; two postseason appearances, including the 2006 NCAA Championships; consecutive trips to the SLC Championship game. The team also placed seven athletes on the All-SLC squads, including two first-team selections and the 2007 conference player of the year.
"I believe it is important to always have players on your roster with postseason experience," said Riley. "Those are the players who know what it takes to be a championship team. Our returnees have certainly accomplished that. This will be a unique season because we are a very young team, but we have a ton of experience at the guard spot."
Despite Riley's stable of returning guards, the phrase "...a ton of experience at the guard spot," may be a huge understatement. All five of the Ladyjack returnees are guards, and this may very well be the strongest crop of guards Riley has ever coached.
The Ladyjacks will be led by their lone senior Nikki Carr. A 5-6, speedster from Hawkins, Texas, Carr enters her final season with the credentials to be the team's dominant scoring threat. A two-time all-conference honoree, she enters the 2007-08 campaign as a preseason first-team all-league selection and the team's top returning scorer. In addition to her offensive skills, Carr also has the ability to take over a game defensively.
"She has started all but a few games during her career," said Riley. "It is her time to shine. Nikki is a tremendous talent with great speed who can take over a game on both ends of the floor. The big thing for Nikki is that we need her to be consistent every night. We just need her to play her game and we'll be fine, but she has to be there for us every game."
Carr is also on the cusp of placing her name in the SFA record books in a few different areas. She is already among the school's all-time leaders with 96 three-pointers. Carr is only 199 points shy of becoming the 23rd Ladyjack to score 1,000 points, and she is also on pace to be among the school's all-time leaders in steals and assists.
Although Carr has spent a good portion of her collegiate career at the point, her ability to score from anywhere on the court, plus the emergence of sophomore Martina Holloway at the point last year, could mean that Carr could see less time at the one spot during her senior year.
Holloway took over the point guard role midway through her freshman season and she handled the position like a savvy veteran. A true point guard, Holloway has a pass first, shoot second mentality, but she will be asked to share more of the scoring load in 2007-08.
"Simply put, Martina is the best passing guard I've ever coached," said Riley. "She has that unique ability to see where her teammates are going to be open before they are actually open, and she can get them the ball. She is like a coach on the floor.
"We really didn't get to see all of her abilities last year because she didn't really look for her shot. This year we need her to carry more of the offensive load. She has a good touch on the ball. We just need her to start looking to take more shots," added Riley.
SFA will be looking to freshman Ebony Alexander to spell Holloway at the point. A 5-6 standout from Hillcrest High School, Alexander comes to Nacogdoches after averaging 24 points and 7.5 rebounds during her senior year in high school.
"Ebony earned Desert League MVP honors after an impressive season at Hillcrest," said Riley. "She loves the run game, which suits our style of play. She is a very crafty player when driving to the basket, but she could also play some two for us as well. She also has a very nice touch on her shot."
A couple of other guards who have the versatility to play a few positions are junior Natashia Green and sophomore Whitney Cormier. Both players have the potential to put up big points. The Ladyjacks will need consistent efforts from both players, and if that happens they will both provide SFA with more scoring options on the floor.
"Whitney was one of the top freshmen in the league last year," said Riley. "We expected her to be able to come in and contribute on a high level right away, and she didn't disappoint. She hit a little spell late in February where she struggled a bit, but that is not uncommon with freshmen. The thing that impressed me most about Cormier is that she never was intimidated by our competition. She always played with the confidence that she belonged on the floor.
"Natashia started the season playing really well before hitting a midseason slump. But I thought she rebounded to play some of the best basketball of her career. The one thing she can do is score, and she is not afraid to shoot from anywhere on the floor. She has worked on her overall game all summer, and I believe she will have a big year," added Riley.
One of only two juniors on the Ladyjacks' roster, Jessica Gaines enters the upcoming season looking to rebound from a sophomore slump. After a freshman season that saw her knock down 53 percent of her three-pointers, she struggled as a sophomore connecting on only 4-of-21 (.258) attempts. But with that being said, Gaines has one of the softest touches on the team and is possibly the only, player Riley will green light from anywhere on the floor.
"She is probably the only kid I've coached who I don't have a problem with her shooting when she is 25 to 30 feet away," said Riley. "She can score from anywhere. I think from the end of last season to this fall she has made a huge change in her demeanor. She has finally realized her talents and understands that she has to utilize them. She spent the offseason in the gym taking 400 to 500 shots a day. She is also a very strong young lady. We need her to use that strength to become a better rebounder."
Another very physical guard on the Ladyjack roster is Austin, Texas, native Decreasha Goodner. A 5-7 freshman, Goodner was rated as high as 24th in the state of Texas following her junior season. A talented rookie who put up big numbers in high school, Goodner averaged nearly 21 points and six rebounds per game as a prepster.
"Decreasha is a very physical guard who has a knack for scoring points," said Riley. "She has the ability to beat you with the three, posting up and drawing the foul or by penetrating. She has a great feel for the game and really understands what is going on."
For all the experience SFA returns in the backcourt, it will be just as young in the front court. After having a veteran front line in 2006-07, the Ladyjacks' greatest area of inexperience will be in the low post this season. All four of the Ladyjacks' frontline players are entering their first season at the NCAA Division I level. Jackie Domino is the veteran of the bunch, having been on the roster last season but utilizing her redshirt year.
"Jackie knows what it takes, having been exposed to the level of play," said Riley. "The best thing that happened to Jackie was having to face Charity (Egenti), Evelyn (Edwards) and Natalie (Kizzee) last year in practice. That made her a tougher player. She is a 6-3 prospect who plays well with her back to the basket."
Also fighting for playing time in the post will be 6-1 Bedford, Texas, product Chantol Drennan. A consistent rebounder throughout her high school career, Drennan saw her offensive numbers increase every season.
"Chantol is a left-handed post player, which I believe can be a real asset," said Riley. "Most teams aren't used to guarding a lefty in the post. We are just trying to get her to become more physical." Also in the rotation will be freshmen Antoinette Davis-Jackson and Jordan Ford. Davis-Jackson made a career of being able to get to the loose ball at both ends of the floor, while Ford finished her high school career ranked among the top players in the state.
"Antoinette enjoys playing the game," said Riley. "She has a smile on her face every time she steps on the court. She is a little undersized for the position, but she really goes after the ball hard. She is a really strong rebounder, and that is what we need."
"Jordan is a tough player to guard because she has such a high release on her shot. She comes from a dominant high school program, winning four state titles during her prep career. Her main focus when she steps on the floor is to win." Riley's young troops will get tested early and often in 2007-08. SFA will face such notables as Tulane, SMU, Louisiana Tech, Auburn, Texas A&M and Tulsa, as well as traveling to Columbia, Mo., and El Paso, Texas, to compete in four-team tournaments.
"Our schedule is very challenging, but I don't think our kids are afraid of the challenge," said Riley. "The new players may not know what they are getting into, but our job as coaches is to get them prepared to play such a competitive schedule."