After spending years as one of the premier programs in the state, Westside has hit a rough patch.
Following the graduation of a talented senior class in 2020, wins have been hard to come by for the Renegades as they’ve fallen in the sectional opener in each of the last two years.
During that span they’ve had to rely on a younger group of players that were thrown in the fire before they were ready. Now Westside head coach Darren Thomas is hoping they can take the proper steps towards returning the program to its winning ways.
“I’ve got a bunch of juniors who have started since they were freshmen,” Thomas said. “Kaitlyn Lester’s back, McKenzie Morgan’s back, Daisha Cline and those kids have started on and off for me since they were freshmen so we’re hoping they’ve grown up a lot. Kids change a lot between their freshmen and junior years. When you’re 14 and 15 playing against those older teams it shows so now that we’re older I’m hoping with the experience they’ve gained we’ll be decent.”
Through the first three weeks of practice Thomas has liked what he’s seen but still has some reservations.
“The kids are working hard,” Thomas said. “We’ve been going at it a couple hours a day and I think more than anything they’ve grown up a lot and they’re in better shape than they’ve been in the past. We also think we have a couple of freshmen that are going to help us out this year too. We’re looking forward to it. I know everybody in the area has a lot of kids back too but we feel pretty confident that we can play with these teams but it depends on whether we can score or not. We’ve played decent defense it’s just depended whether we could score enough the last couple of years.”
While the teams around the section such as Shady Spring and PikeView do have some key pieces back, they were hit by graduation. Shady graduated seven seniors including 1,000-point scorer Kierra Richmond and PikeView graduated a pair of all-staters in Anyah Brown and Hannah Perdue. By default that makes the Reneagdes one of he most seasoned teams in the section.
“We’re hoping it pays off to our advantage,” Thomas said. “We’ve played a lot of young kids the last two years. You can’t lose the caliber of kids PikeView, Shady and some of these other teams have lost – and I’m not saying they’re going to be bad – but we’re hoping we’ve gotten a little better and can play with those teams right now. Plus Midland Trail is in our section and they have a nice team with a bunch of kids back.”
With Shyann Jenkins gone, the Renegades will be in search of a way to replace her scoring production. Junior Kaitlyn Lester is a prime candidate to do so having led the team in scoring several times last year.
“She’s just an athlete,” Thomas said of Lester. “She had a good season in volleyball and she’s stronger and I’m hoping she’ll be aggressive and look to score a little bit more. In the past they’ve been a little bit more of pass first but I’m hoping they’ll be aggressive and shoot more.”
Scoring has been a concern for Thomas all offseason as he’s brainstormed ways to jumpstart the offense.
“The biggest thing is where are we going to get points from?” Thomas asked. “We have to have some kids step up and give us some points. When I had those older kids you could throw stuff in on the run. With these younger kids it’s made me go back to more basic stuff like trying to get more sets. With that older group we ran and gunned. With this crew we don’t run as well as I want them to and we had to have a lot more half-court sets. I’ve had to throw in a lot more than we’ve tried to run in the past but hopefully where they’re older we’ll be able to rebound better. We need to get some transition baskets. Last year we didn’t rebound well and didn’t shoot – we took bad shots because we were so young and didn’t realize what was a good or bad shot.”
In what Thomas hopes is a turning point for the program, the goal is clear. They’re not shooting for a state championship right off the bat but hoping to take steps in the right direction.
“We want to be competitive again,” Thomas said. “After the first 10 or 15 games we want to be in all these games and want to be completive and win as many as we can. I want to be where those last seven or eight ball games, we’re pretty close to tournament time and we can kick it up a notch. I think we’re going to be competitive but teams are competitive but it doesn’t promise you wins. That’s what worries me – you can be 100 percent better but if you don’t put a few wins on the board it just deflates everything. But I think if we can have a .500 or better season, compete with these teams and be ready by tournament time, a sectional championship would be great.”
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