Brian Nabors may have thought this would finally be a normal year for his team.
Instead it will be more of a reloading year.
Following the graduation of first-team all-staters Cloey Frantz and Jamara Walton, Nabors hoped he had replacements lined up in juniors Camille Fenton and Keanti Thompson. Neither player elected to play this season.
It makes the goal of making the state tournament for the fourth time in five years a challenge.
“We’ve got a different team this year, “Nabors said. “Without Camille and Kenati we’re going to be playing some younger players. We’ve got some girls that didn’t get a lot of experience last year that played JV but didn’t play varsity. We’re counting on them to step up and play well for us. It’s almost like, with the exception of Olivia (Ziolkowski) and Adriana (Law), it’s kind of like a rebuilding year. We’ve got two seniors in those two and our juniors are Lataja Creasey and Bella Staples who got experience last year. Those are the only two players that got a lot of experience. It’s a new team and we’re just trying to find our identity right now.”
Adding to the uncertainty is what Nabors will do at point guard now. For the last four years he’s had all-staters in Liz Cadle and Frantz, an important aspect of his offense. At its best, his offensive philosophy requires two point guards and he believes he has a rising star in freshman Abby Dillon, but knows there will be learning curve.
“There’s no replacing Cloey Frantz but as a freshman we think that Abby Dillon is ready to play,” Nabors said. “We understand that she’s going to have some growing pains, but she’s the type of player that’s willing to take on the challenge and she’s very hard nosed and a hard worker. She’s going to be a good player for us. Lataja Creasey will be our other point guard. We’re still trying to figure out who will be the primary point guard but Adriana Law, if she can still healthy, can help us there too.”
Law, who saw starts as a sophomore, missed all of her junior season with a shoulder injury but provides reinforcement for the Flying Eagles. Her and Ziolkowski will be expected to carry the load this year.
“I’m counting on Olivia Ziolkowski to really step her game up and be one of the best players in the state,” Nabors said. “That’s the challenge. She needs to play to her capability and be one of the best players in the state. When they mention the best players we need them to play well enough to where Olivia and Adriana are in that conversation. But for our team to be successful we need those two to step their games up and be successful. We need to feel their impact each night. I’m talking about averaging a double-double.”
Supplementing the two seniors as well as Staples and Creasey will be a group of younger, more specialized players.
“We may not be as deep, but we have to have the mindset that we have a deep bench,” Nabors said. “We need Sarah Hopkins to step up. She’s a sophomore that didn’t play major minutes but had to play when we had kids that had Covid or injuries last year so she got some experience. Somalia Nelson, who didn’t play at all on varsity but dressed, is very athletic. Once she gets it, she might be able to give us some things that Jamara gave us last year but it’s taking some time for her to get to that point. Maddie Belcher didn’t play a lot of varsity minutes – she played a lot of JV. We’re looking for her to give us another shooter. She’s one of our best shooters on the team. We’re looking for ways we can get her open three point looks because she can be a deadeye shooter. There’s another freshman in Mya Wooton who’s a very good defender. We’re trying to figure out what we can do with her because she’s a very, very good soccer player.
“We’ve got Jolene Hazlewood who’s also a junior and was out with a knee injury last year. She’s getting into the swing of things and she can help us on the defensive end. We’re going to count on her to play the point guard position at times when we need her. Bella is another junior that’s gotta be big for us and we need her to step her game up. She’s gotta be Jamara, Camille Fenton and Sierra Conley at times and just do a little bit of everything. We really think she can be a mismatch. Josie Cross is another freshman that’s talented and might start some times for us. It really just all depends.”
Despite the steep hill his Flying Eagles are faced with climbing, Nabors isn’t too discouraged. Obstacles have been the norm for the seventh-year head coach, this is just another one he believes he can navigate if the kids buy in.
“As long as they come out every day and work hard we’ll be fine,” he said. “If they come out and love each other, play for each other and listen then I like our chances against any team in the state.”
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