After graduating all of their starters in 2020, Westside was due for a down year and it happened.
The young Renegades struggled throughout the season, falling in the sectional tournament. The good news is this year they return most of the players that saw time for them last season.
“Well we have Shyann Jenkins back and she was our leading scorer,” Westside head coach Darren Thomas said. “She averaged about 15 points per game last year and we have Emily Johnson, another senior. Both of them are our leaders this year and we have the five freshmen that are sophomores this year that played a lot for us last year. To be honest I’m hoping that a year older they’re a lot better. We just got our butts handed to us at times last year playing those young girls we knew would be our future but we went with it.”
In just two weeks Thomas has already seen improvement, but knows it’s a work in progress.
“Yeah, I think they’re definitely stronger and more aggressive going to the basket,” Thomas said. “They’ve got a better understanding of what’s going on offensively and defensively. We’re pleased so far though. We’ll see. At practice you look good one day and the next you’re wondering do you need two restart. We’re looking forward to just getting in better shape and getting our season started. So far those young girls, I’m pretty pleased with where they are right now.”
Last offseason didn’t give Thomas and Co. much of an opportunity to adjust with a younger group. With the pandemic eliminating summer workouts and ultimately pushing the start of the season into March there wasn’t an opportunity to get the young group up to speed.
While this offseason has been shorter, with last season ending in May, it provided the coach an opportunity to install more and expand what he can run.
“We already have installed more,” Thomas said. “After losing all those seniors that one year, we really needed that summer, knowing we were going to be that young we needed to work with these young girls. It wasn’t’ until February when we were able to do a lot with them. We were shut out of the gyms for the longest time so summer would’ve been really helpful. We got to play this summer and I think altogether we got in about 20 varsity games in the summer. You gotta play. when you’re that young and coming out of the grade school ranks to high school, it’s a different ball game.”
In the short offseason Thomas has already noticed a difference in his team. Physically they’re stronger but also finding their strengths on offense.
“So far defensively we’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Thomas said. “Last year we got pushed off blocks a lot. We’re still learning and still growing. Offensively we’re attacking the basket more. Last year some of our kids that played like Daisha Cline and Kaitlyn Lester, they started last year inside as freshmen and they’re more aggressive this year. Kaitlyn jumps really well and she’s a volleyball player too. Just a year of learning the game more has helped them all.”
At the end of the day Thomas still anticipates Jenkins being his top player and one of the best in Class AAA. She’ll likely need to carry the scoring load again this season but has grown not just as a player but as a leader as well.
“She’s taken over the leadership role a lot, even going back to the summer,” Thomas said. “What I’m hoping is – last year if Shyan didn’t score we didn’t score. I’m hoping and what’s happened so far is she’s distributing the ball a lot and McKenzie Morgan is back and she started as a freshman. I think more than anything is Shyan’s always understood the game a lot but she’s finally getting some kids that understand the game a little bit too so she doesn’t have to do everything and I’m hoping that’s the case all season.”
While there still may be some growing pains to endure the goal is clear – be a better team than when they started. Thomas, who had a daughter on the 2014 title team, knows what it takes to win in February and March and he’s hoping to see his team hit its stride come tournament time.
“We want to be a different basketball team come tournament time than what we are at the start of December. I’ve talked to the girls and we just want to start on the first day and work at it. By tournament time we just want to be ready. When we won those state championships we learned you have to be ready around the first of February. We want to be playing our best basketball then. We want to work some kinks out, figure what we’re good at and what we’re not and work on it.”