Greater Beckley Christian head girls basketball coach Elisabeth Graham is only in her second year on the bench, but it has already been a wild ride.
Along with the daily nightmare caused by the pandemic, Graham was also installing a new system to a veteran team in year one.
This season will be a different challenge for the young coach who will fight the numbers game with a limited roster to start the season.
“It was a learning experience for sure. It is definitely a lot different playing and coaching. It is a totally different level” Graham said, smiling. “I think I learned more coaching than I ever did playing, but it was fun. I had a bunch of great girls and obviously I lost a bunch, but it was still fun.”
A team of 10 players last year, will only be six this year with the hopes of maybe a few more joining the team.
“We had two graduate and two transferred. We lost all of our starters except for one,” Graham said. I have one starter back and my sixth-man returning. I have no seniors and three juniors. I am going to start with the basics and if we can get the foundation set, I will be happy.”
The most experienced player for the Crusaders this year will be Jessica Arrington who played forward and center last year.
“Jessica is the best rebounder that I have on the team,” Graham said.
Emerson Young filled the role of the first player off the bench last year, but she will need to provide her team with much more this year.
“She has grown some thankfully. She played volleyball and softball,” Graham said. “She is getting bigger which is very helpful. She will play in the middle for us. Emerson and Jess will be our leaders this year.”
Along with Arrington and Young, Greater Beckley has one more player back from last year’s team.
“Praise Alexis didn’t play a lot for us last year, but I have already seen great improvement from her,” Graham said. “She is shooting the ball much better.”
Joy McCoy is a newcomer to the school and Graham says she will likely play the point guard position this year.
“She played in middle school, but she hasn’t played in high school, so she does have some experience on the court,” Graham said.
With only three players back from last year’s team, Graham knows the season will be a work in progress.
“We have tempered the expectations and set smaller goals,” Graham said. “We will have small goals, but we will achieve some. We may not win every game, but we will get better and that is our goal. This group is really close. I am hoping that helps us work more as a team than we did last year.”
Freshman Abby Woodruff is another new player this year for Graham.
“Abby played basketball when she was younger and now she has come back to play in high school,” Graham said.
Youth and inexperience will likely lead to some scoring woes early in the season as the team searched for its identity.
“We don’t really have any strong shooters right now, so my strategy will be to play aggressive on defense and drive the basket,” Graham said. “We will need to make plays and not expect everyone else to do it for us.”
However, with a limited roster, aggressive play and staying out of foul trouble will a fight all season.
“We will be straddling a fine line there. Even though we only have six players, I can’t let them play timid basketball,” Graham explained.
The low numbers have also created a difficult learning curve that may only be solved by game time.
“We were working on defense earlier, but I am the only one on offense. It is hard for them to see it,” Graham said. “We have never had like 20 players, but I kinda like it that way. It is definitely a challenge, but it is so much easier. You can spend more time with each individual person.”
With all of her players back and several players coming up next year, Graham just wants her team to enjoy the game of basketball this year.
“They are fun group and have been anxious to get started. They really want to play. They all will be back next year and we have four or five 8th graders coming up,” Graham said. “The main thing is to keep the joy in it. I don’t want them to get frustrated and not want to play again. We want to have fun.”