Last season was a rollercoaster for the Shady Spring girls basketball team.
Quarantines led to some ugly losses in a condensed, limited schedule but the Tigers got healthy at the right time.
It resulted in a sectional championship, but ended in heartbreak. A two-point loss in the Region 3 co-final meant the Tigers fell a game short of making it to the state tournament.
The good news is they come in as one of the early favorites to win the region and make the trek to Charleston. It helps they only graduated two seniors.
“We lost Ashley Gabbert and Liv Tabit,” Shady coach Brandon Bennett said. “We’ll miss them, but this year we have a lot more additions. Coming back we have Brooklyn Lipford, who is a senior. She played with us her 9th and 10th grade years but with everything going on with Covid she took last year off. She actually played some varsity minutes her freshman year. She’s a post player so we’re excited to have her back. Braille Wiseman is another newcomer that played volleyball. She was a really good middle school player. She didn’t get to play her first two years because she had some injuries that needed to heal, but she’s a junior that’s going to be with us this year. Coach Lawson and I call her the Dennis Rodman of girls basketball because she’s everywhere and a great rebounder.
“We’ve got a couple freshmen that are going to get in the mix with varsity. Kendra Pizzino is a really good three-point shooter and an exciting player. We also have another player in Austyn Barnes, the younger sister of Kylie Barnes that played with us last year. She’s another really exciting player that can score quick. We’re really excited about those additions.”
While it wasn’t ideal, the Tigers learned a lot last year through quarantines.
Star Kierra Richmond, an all-state honorable mention player last year, missed two weeks due to quarantines thus the rest of the team had to pick up the slack. It provided valuable experience for the group. It allowed them to grow but getting so close to the state tournament also provided a spark of excitement. Bennett’s already noticed a difference.
“When Kierra was out for two weeks and Kellie Adkins was out two weeks because of Covid protocols and Brooklyn Gibson got hurt and missed some games we learned a lot,” Bennett said. “We maybe had three games in the regular season with all of our starters. A lot of kids got in the mix and saw some time. After we won that sectional championship, I think everybody knew we could do that. When we lost the regional championship we started talking the next week about when we could get in and do conditioning and what we could do for a summer league. I’ve coached for a long time and it’s pretty rare when you have a group of girls that say they want to go to conditioning. Literally the first day of school they wanted to start it, so they’re extremely hungry especially these three core players in Kierra, Brooklyn (Gibson) and Kellie. They’ve been ready to go and hungry and they’ve brought the young ones along with them.”
With a more experienced team, led by the three core seniors, Bennett expects a more aggressive offensive approach.
“I think you’re going to see us score more points,” Bennett said. “There’s going to be a more even distribution of points too. Kierra is that person that can score. She can score 40 on any night, but there’s some other people around her that can do the same and I don’t think we saw much of them last year. Brooklyn Gibson scored about eight points a game last year and she can put 20 up any night. Kylie Barnes, who scored about five points a game last year, don’t be surprised if she scores 20 in a game. Kellie, don’t be surprised if she puts up 20-point games. We’ve got a lot of kids that can score and the speed of the game at this level, this group is ready to play at that level.”
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