Clarksville, Ark.-Thanks to more depth, a talented junior class and four returning starters, the Lady Eagles are expected to make major improvements in year two under head coach Carl Ramsey.
Ramsey, who was hired from the high school ranks just seven weeks before school started last season, went through his first losing season as a head coach. The Lady Eagles ended the season with a 7-17 overall record and a sixth-place finish in the American Southwest Conference (5-14). Things are different now - Ramsey brought in six new players, returns all but one starter and has his top five scorers back.
“I feel more comfortable with what I think we can do,” said Ramsey. “The fact that the top seven kids are back is a plus. It will be important to stay healthy. The team chemistry is good. We have more depth and there will be some competition for spots. Some of them will not play as much as they did last year. I can rest more players now. The fact that they have to come out of the game at times is a plus, not a minus. I’ve told our players it is not about getting your shot, it is about getting our shots.”
While the Lady Eagles had their fair share of disappointments last season, they made positive strides during the year. They defeated the reigning ASC champions and lost a heart-breaker to No. 8 Howard Payne University on a controversial ending. Four of their losses were by five points or less.
“Last year we lost some games early on and it would have been real easy to get down,” said Ramsey. “There could have been some doubts creeping in. But we had some games that gave us confidence that we could compete in this league. At one point, we won four out of our six games to increase that confidence but injuries cost us. We want to build on those positive things and the good news is that we have those seven kids back. I think the returners realize we can compete and they have instilled that in our freshmen. Now it won’t be enough to win seven or eight games. The moral victories will have to be replaced with real victories. I think this bunch can do that.”
The junior class is comprised of center Sabrina Goddard, guards April Young, Alison Villines and Lacey Phillips, and forward Ashley Teague. Guard Ally Goddard is the team’s lone senior. The freshmen class includes Ashley Barry, Lauren Benton, Serena Clokey, Kindra Davis, Karlye Tolley and Tamara Wilkett.
“We are an experienced team even though we have just one senior,” said Ramsey. “These juniors have played a tremendous amount of minutes since they’ve been here. We had players last year that played 50 minutes during a game. You can’t ask kids to do that. We have quality experience and a group that has played together. That should work in our favor. We are not the most athletic bunch or biggest bunch. It will be a challenge every night, but I think it will be fun.”
Sabrina Goddard, 6-foot-1, is one of the top inside threats in the league. She was named to the ASC All-East Division Second Team after ranking in the conference’s top-10 in four different categories. She was fifth in scoring (15.5), eighth in rebounding (8.3), third in blocked shots (2.0) and seventh in free throw percentage (78.9%). She will lead a group of young post players for Ramsey.
“Sabrina is a solid inside player,” said Ramsey. “We had four incoming freshmen post players that hurt their knees before the season even started. Hopefully, we can get some of them back and be a little deeper in the post position. We have to play smart in the post area.”
Young combined with Goddard to produce 45 percent of the team’s scoring. Young earned Honorable Mention All-Conference honors as well as ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors. She finished fourth in the ASC in scoring (15.6) and led the conference in three-pointers per game (2.4). She was fifteenth in rebounding (6.3) and ninth in free throw percentage (77.1%). She was the team’s leading scorer, and hit a team-best 57 three-pointers.
Joining Young on the perimeter will be Ally Goddard, Phillips and Villines. With sophomore point guard Chelsea Glasscock back, the guard spot is a team strength because of its depth. Goddard had five starts a year ago and averaged nearly four points per game while hitting 22 three-pointers. Phillips was an ASC All-Freshman choice two seasons ago and is expected to play a bigger role this year. Villines has been a two-year starter, and averaged 7.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season. Glasscock finished seventh in the ASC in assists (3.3), sixth in steals (2.3) and fifth in three-point percentage (40.3%) and minutes played (33.4). She averaged 8.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game en route to earning ASC All-Freshman honors.
“April is one of the top shooters in the league,” said Ramsey. “They are not a big group of guards, but we feel pretty deep there. We want them to play hard and play with urgency and then replace them with someone else that plays hard and with urgency.”
The team’s combination of inside and outside play gives Ramsey a shot of optimism for the upcoming season.
“The inside game will open up the outside game and vice versa,” said Ramsey. “I think if you have only one of those, you are a lot easier to guard. I think one advantage we have is that we have a bunch of three-point shooters, and I am hoping that will give Sabrina some room to work inside. We will shoot the three if we get a chance and throw it inside when we can. The key is to make sure we are balanced. I think Ashley Barry will do a good job inside. We will put Ashley Teague in there, too.”
With the added depth, Ozarks will likely change the way it plays, according to Ramsey.
“Last year we didn’t push the ball,” said Ramsey. “We had to shorten the game. This year we would like to extend that pressure and press. We hope we can get our opponents to turn the ball over a little more and get a few easy steals. I think we will be a little more up-tempo and fun to watch.”
Depth has also increased competition for playing time and will allow extended rest for the starting five.
“I want April and Sabrina to understand that if they don’t score like last season it won’t be a bad year,” said Ramsey. “It will be hard to match what they did last year. Every team now knows who those two are. You earn playing time in practice. Last year, everyone knew who would play. This year it is a little different.”
Another productive year from its returning core group and its freshmen class increases the team’s opportunity to play beyond the regular season.
“We have talked about the opportunity to make the playoffs,” said Ramsey. “That is a goal. We need to prepare to win and do those things to have a chance to get to that point. I want to see in their eyes that they want to make the playoffs. I think improvement has to be the focus, too.”
The Lady Eagles have not qualified for the playoffs since the 2006-2007 season, and in order to break that drought, Ramsey believes his team must improve in several areas, especially in the rebounding department. Ozarks will also need to improve its turnover margin (-2.58).
“We will have to rebound against people bigger than us,” said Ramsey. “You do that with position and with tenacity. We have to want the ball more than our opponents. Our pressure defense can’t give up easy buckets. We don’t want to give up post lobs and we don’t want to give up offensive put backs. We want to make sure they earn everything. We have to take care of the basketball. It doesn’t matter how good of a shooter you are if you don’t take care of the basketball.”