Heading into year four at Bluefield, girls basketball coach Ernie Gilliard is hoping to get a turnaround jumpstarted. His first season ended with a regional loss to Westside and the following two years have seen the veteran head coach try to rebuild the program after consecutive graduations took heavy tolls on it.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Gilliard said. “We do have a few kids back and they’re starting to show some signs of understanding and developing basketball instincts. We won’t be very deep but we do have some kids that have worked extremely hard in the weight room and conditioning and were involved in summer activities. I’m pleased with their work ethic so far.”
Rolling with a younger group of players over the last three seasons, Gilliard is hoping the maturity of the group begins to manifest itself on the court. In an effort to jumpstart that process he’s tinkered more with putting players in positions they’re comfortable with and likes the early results.
“One of our seniors, Adie Brown, she’s going to play a lot of two-guard and maybe some point guard for us,” Gilliard said. “We’ll be looking at Cara Brown at one of the wing spots and she’ll probably play the three and get some double duty in the post for us. Those are two I think will have to carry us early on. We’ve got some other talented kids that have been working extremely hard. Right now we have Arionna Dowell that’s playing in the post. She’s a real good defender and hard worker and pretty good finisher on the break and decent mid-range shooter. We’ve got a couple of sophomores that will be playing and one’s our point guard Melania Hayes. She’s improving every day in terms of what it takes to be a point guard and how to lead the team. She’s a real good defender and pretty quick so we’re excited about what she brings to the table. Then we have a young lady in Laken Harvey who is a second-year player and she loves the weight room with about 93 or 95 percent attendance there.”
Last year Gilliard wasn’t entirely pleased with the approach his players had taken to basketball or their commitment as they went through the maturation process. This year has been different.
“The commitment and work ethic have improved,” Gilliard said. “They’re doing more things instinctively and their understanding has gotten better. We’ve not fully arrived yet but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
One of the players Gillaird’s been impressed with early has been junior Cara Brown. A guard her freshman year, she transitioned to the wing last year and figures to see more post action as she’s grown and become more versatile.
“Her shooting is better and she’s more consistent,” Gilliard said. “She’s going to be a force to be reckoned with this year and she’s working hard on posting up and her perimeter game. Because of her experience, we won’t hesitate to post her up if we feel we have a mismatch. She’s a force because of her versatility.”
Rebuilding a program takes time. Gilliard knows this and also recognizes he plays in one of the toughest regions in the state. The two teams in his own section – Summers County and Wyoming East – made the state tournament last year, speaking to the difficulty of traversing the postseason and earning. spot in Charleston.
As such Gilliard is trying to set goals he believes are achievable.
“We just want to get better every game out,” Gilliard said. “I wouldn’t be lying to say we want to go to the state tournament. We have those aspirations and hopes. We’ve still got a lot of work to do though. A lot of things have to fall in place the right way and a lot of role players will have to grow up fast but if that happens basketball’s a funny game and on any given night anybody can be beat.”
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