Last year the James Monroe girls basketball team was close to a state tournament berth, but a heartbreaking loss in the sectional championship ultimately led to a regional loss at Webster County.
Falling a game short of the state tournament, the goal again is reach that stage.
James Monroe coach Matt Phillips finds that achievable. Powering that optimism is the return of several key contributors from last season.
“We have three or four starters from last year coming back,” Phillips said. “It looks promising again this year. I think we can go far as long as we get out and play. Our scoring and defense are good. Our top returners are Haley Hunnicutt and Adyson Hines. I think they averaged maybe 10 or 11 points each last year. Adyson was pretty high up there in rebounds as well so it’s pretty nice to have that type of scoring and rebounding coming back. We also have Lilly Jackson coming back as our lone senior. She started last year and should be starting again this year.”
Early on Phillips believes there’s a clear defined strength for the team and it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Defense helped them in tough spots last year so he believes they’re ahead of the curve.
“I think it looks like our defense is going to be okay,” Phillips said. “That seems to be something the kids pick up faster than some of the offense we’re going to be running but overall I think we’re looking really well. Last year I think our defense helped us in a lot of ball games. I think we start with out defense first and then our offense kind of comes out of our defense.”
The weakness initially for the Mavericks comes from a place of uncertainty. Last year they we paced by graduate Akayla Hughes, who led the team in scoring. Replacing her nightly average is the biggest task facing the Mavericks entering the season.
“I think our weakness is just trying to figure out how we’re going to get our scoring early,” Phillips said. “We lost one of our major scorers last year in Akayla Hughes. She was about 13 or 14 points a game for us so we’ve got find somebody to step up and fill those shoes on the scoring end but we haven’t figured out who that’s going to be yet. That’s probably our biggest weakness right now.
“We just have to have a lot of people step top and fill some big shoes. We’re a pretty young team. We’ve got one lone senior so we’re still pretty young. How far the kids come along this season in growth and development – if they come along I think we’re going to have a really good shot of coming to states. We have a lot of returners as well but if we grow we can compete and be right there with those other teams in our region.”
Having experience back has been nice as well. With last season being an accelerated one due to Covid, there wasn’t an opportunity to install or run as much as Phillips would’ve liked. This year it’s much different with the returners grasping the concepts they learned last year.
“Just being able to run the same system all the way through with this group is great,” Phillips said. “Coming in, offensively at the varsity level these kids have been able to pick up on the offensive schemes pretty quick this year. We haven’t had to reteach a lot so we can add more in. I think that’s something that I look forward to this year. We can put a little more in than we did last year. In such a condensed season we had to do just a few things and do them well instead of expanding our stuff to where we can make adaptations for when teams switch up from press to zone. I think we’re going to have more options to run on offense.”
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