Clarksville, Ark.-Expectations are at a fever pitch for Carl Ramsey?s Lady Eagles following a postseason appearance and the return of all five starters.
The Lady Eagles have their sights set high after orchestrating a seven-game improvement from the previous season under Ramsey. The 2010-11 team posted its first winning record in nearly a decade and broke a three-year playoff drought. Spurred by the momentum of last season, the Lady Eagles appear primed to challenge for a divisional title.
“We got a taste of success last year and that makes the players hungry,” said Ramsey, who was voted American Southwest Conference East Division Coach of the Year. “Qualifying for the playoffs left a good taste in their mouths. The players believe they deserve to be there and we tried to prove that last year.”
Ramsey has five seniors at his disposal and 90 percent of his scoring back. It is a senior class that is attempting to go from worst to first over a four-year span. The 2008-09 team went 5-20 and finished last in the East Division. Three years later, the Lady Eagles are expected to compete for a shot to host the playoffs as the No. 1 seed from the Division.
“We are going into this season looking at it as a challenge and an opportunity for these seniors to go out in style,” said Ramsey. “They have been through a lot. They’ve paid a price. I think they are hungry and excited. The entire team has been ready every day.”
The senior class includes ASC Preseason Player of the Year Sabrina Goddard, April Young and Lacey Phillips, both All-Conference players, and Ashley Teague and Alison Villines. The 6-foot-1 Goddard, who averaged 15.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game, is expected to be a go-to player again this season. Goddard, who was a Second Team All-Conference pick a year ago, was named ASC Player of the Week three times.
“Sabrina gives us such a presence inside defensively,” said Ramsey. “Offensively, she can shoot with either hand and spin either way. And that makes her awfully difficult to guard. But she is not the only player we have.”
Goddard no doubt benefits from one of the NCAA III’s top three-point shooting teams as Ozarks ranked ninth in three-pointers per game (7.9) last season. Ozarks possesses three of the league’s top fifteen three-point shooters in Young, Phillips and junior Chelsea Glasscock. Young hit a team-best 58-of-139, while Phillips (28-of-73) and Glasscock (43-of-107) assist in forming a potent outside attack for Ozarks.
“Our identity is that we are a three-point shooting team,” said Ramsey. “The fact that we can shoot the three makes it difficult to pack it in on Sabrina. I think those two things complement each other. I think the fact that she is a presence inside is a reason we get so many three-pointers. We have a balanced attack offensively. We will take what the defense gives us.”
That balance was a key to last year’s success, and will again play a big part of this year’s push for the playoffs.
“I don’t feel like you can point to just one player and say that is the reason we were successful,” he said. “Everyone brings something different to the table. If everyone accepts their roles, we will have a good situation. It will not be a one man game.”
On the perimeter, Ozarks returns Glasscock and Villines at the point guard position. Glasscock started in all 26 games and averaged 7.4 points, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. The savvy Villines had three starts and averaged 4.8 points and nearly two assists per contest.
“They play a different style at the point,” said Ramsey. “Chelsea does a good job of keeping us in an offense while Alison pushes the ball a little more. Alison has overcome a lot of injuries and is now playing the best I have seen her play.”
The shooting guard spot belongs to the prolific Young, who earned All-Conference Second Team honors last season. Young is a career 34 percent shooter from three-point range. She has hit 130-of-375 from long range and ranked second on the team in points per game (11.3) last season. The versatile Phillips is a solid all-around performer who possesses a career 8.6 point per game average. Phillips, too, earned All-Conference Second Team honors last season after leading the team in assists (4.9), while averaging 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
“Lacey is a great slicer and can shoot from the perimeter,” said Ramsey. “She can also get to the rim. April has a quick release and can come off screens and shoot the three.”
Assisting inside and out is Teague, who started in all 26 games and netted 7.8 points per game last season. Athletic sophomore forward Ashley Barry is expected to play an expanded role this season. Barry was named to the ASC East Division All-Freshman Team after scoring 5.3 points and grabbing 4.3 rebounds per game. Transfer Jordyn Ferrell is a talented junior who can play a number of positions.
“Ashley Teague is more of a three-point type shooter,” he said. “But she is physical and goes all out. Ashley Barry is an athletic player who can go get the ball off the boards.”
The veteran coach sees it important that the Lady Eagles improve their rebounding efforts and decision making throughout the season. With added depth, Ramsey plans to utilize his guards to push the ball more.
“We still need to be a better rebounding ball club,” he said. “We need to do more blocking out and be better at the fundamental part of it. We need to get good position and not count on athletic ability.”
“This year we are trying to push the ball up a little more and play up-tempo, but at the same time we need to be disciplined. We would like to do some things with our defense to create some easy shots. We need to be disciplined enough to know when the fast break is not there.”
Success, according to Ramsey, hinges on finding the right balance of players and team chemistry. Last season the Lady Eagles posted a 14-12 overall mark and a 10-10 mark in conference play.
“Playing as a unit and being cohesive will be important,” he said. “Team chemistry will be imperative. I think we have to be ready to play. You have to keep working and going. The cumulative factor of playing 40 minutes every night can wear players down. We can rest kids in games and be a little fresher towards the end of the season with that depth.”
Qualifying for postseason play is always difficult in the competitive ASC, and Ramsey believes this year will be no different.
“Last year, we talked about going to the playoffs,” said Ramsey. “I believe you set goals high and set goals that push you. This year, I don’t want to cheat the kids and not try for the best. We can’t get complacent. This is a tough league.”