After advancing to the Group AA, Division IV State Semifinals for the first time in school history, Carroll County’s girls’ basketball team lost arguably its most talented group of seniors ever. But don’t cry for head coach Marc Motley, who will still have plenty of talent to work with in 2012-2013.
Everybody knows the Cavaliers simply can’t replace Lindsay Martin, Rachel Dalton, Shyann Dalton and Emily Hiatt. But the strength of the Carroll County program is also reflected in the fact that Motley actually had to cut three players this season, the first time he’s ever had to do that in his tenure.
“And we still kept 13 players. I’ve never had more than 12,” Motley said. “It’s just one of those things. The program is blooming and we are getting a lot of kids out. Unfortunately we can only keep so many girls, so we had some very hard-working kids that have been in our program six or seven years that didn’t make it.”
And while the Lady Cavs lost all its top guns from last season, the team still returns a lot of experience from last season’s Region IV championship squad. In fact, Taylor Martin, Michala Hash, Cassidi McCann, Rachel Sellers, Hayden Caldwell and Brittany Willard will team to provide an abundance of senior leadership, while juniors Crysta Guynn and Megan Alderman were also integral parts of last year’s postseason run.
“We lost an extremely successful group of seniors, but I felt like the reason they were successful is the group we have right now. They pushed them to the edge every day in practice,” Motley said. “We are a lot different type of team. We don’t have that 6-foot post player people can play off and we don’t necessarily have a kid that is going to score 1,000 points, but I feel like we can put seven or eight on the court that can score. I think we will be a tough guard because we have so many other pieces that can score. We played a lot of kids last year and they got experience. I realized some of them will be getting 75 to 80 percent of the minutes that only got 15 to 20 percent of the minutes last year, but a lot of these kids like Megan, Crysta, Taylor, Michala and Rachel all played in crucial parts of games. I have all the trust in the world in that group.”
Granted, this year’s team will have flaws, Motley said. A small lineup will be even smaller to start the season as the two biggest players on the roster, Jessica Sheek and Sami Reece, are both currently out with injuries. Sheek could miss two months or more with a broken bone in her foot, while Motley hopes Reece will be able to return around Christmas.
“Obviously we have some holes with size, but this group plays so hard and hate losing so much they will work as hard as they can to be successful,” Motley said. “The biggest surprise you are going to see is Hayden Caldwell. She has just really worked hard this summer and fall. I think she feels like this is her third year here and she is not going to let it pass. She has really played well.”
Like Crysta Guynn, Motley said Caldwell can play three or four different positions, which will allow Carroll to switch up its lineup quite a bit when needed. Hash is also playing well in the preseason, Motley said. Last year she came off the bench and scored in bunches at times. This year she will benefit from increased playing time.
“Hash will get more opportunities. Last year she was in there scoring and she was getting maybe 12 minutes a game. Now she will probably be getting 18 to 20 minutes per game, so I would expect her scoring to go up,” Motley said. “A lot of girls will see their minutes go up this year, and a lot of times that means confidence goes up.”
Taylor Martin, McCann and Guynn probably won’t see a huge change in their minutes simply because they already played extensively last year. Their roles on the team will change drastically, however.
“Those kids knew they were the fourth and fifth options on the floor last year because Shyann, Lindsey and Rachel were always one, two and three. Those roles will change in how I expect them to play, but the bottom line is Taylor can create her own shot so that puts the ball in her hands more than the others,” Motley said of his senior point guard. “She is extremely quick and she is the strongest kid I have. She is able to take contact and still finish with contact. Her and Hash both do a super job of finishing with contact, which gives you two guards that shoot from outside well and can go to the basket.”
As a sophomore last year, Guynn was an extremely versatile player for Carroll, averaging 4.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. She also contributed 33 steals and shot 36.3 percent from 3-point range to earn honorable mention all-district honors. With good height, she can rebound but also hurt teams by stepping out and shooting the three, Motley said.
Alderman will play the point quite a bit along with Martin. She’s such a good passer Motley said he may move Martin to the two-guard at times to have both on the floor.
“Megan is as good a passer as has ever played for me and she’s an excellent ball handler. She can find ways to get the ball places that leaves me thinking ‘How in the world did that happen?’ She sees the court great and has gotten quite a bit quicker this year,” Motley said.
While Sellers is a bit undersized for a center at about 5-7, she plays much taller than she actually is, Motley said. That was never more apparent that in the Group AA Quarterfinal last year against Staunton River when Shyann Dalton got in foul trouble. Sellers came in and did a great job on star center Shaniesha Robinson.
“And that is what she will be asked to do this year. Last year if she got in foul trouble I didn’t care because we had Shyann. This year she will have to play aggressive and stay out of foul trouble,” Motley said. “She’s an undersized post player but she may be as fast as any kid I have. She will run, she can finish in transition and she is extremely aggressive on the offensive boards. She is the one I expect to carry the load rebounding this year.”
McCann will be counted to fill that role as well, Motley said. The senior is strong and an excellent rebounder who boxes out well. Last year she was inserted in the starting lineup halfway through the season because Motley felt like the team needed more size inside.
“I felt like she was one of our better rebounders and I expect her to do that again. One thing she can do is step out and shoot from the three, which not a lot of the other post players can do,” Motley said. “She won’t shoot 40, but if you leave her open she will give you trouble.”
Motley said he feels like he has seven starters on this year’s team that are interchangeable. Starting lineups will most likely be based on matchups.
Younger players new to the varsity include junior Kaitlan Farmer. Motley said Farmer was one of the best players in her age group a couple of years ago but a terrible softball injury set her back. The guard is just now recovering to the point of where she was as a freshman.
“She has improved tremendously,” Motley said. “She may play backup at the point and some at the two. She is an excellent outside shooter.”
Among the freshman new to the team include Reece, who Motley expects to give the team plenty of minutes when she gets healthy, and guards Maycee Cain and Rylee Haynes.
“I feel like both of them are going to see minutes,” Motley said.
The Carroll coach expects a tight Southwest District race this year with Richlands returning almost everybody from a team that also went to the state semifinals a year ago. He expects Tazewell to be a much-improved ball club while Abingdon came on strong at the end of the season. Right now though, Motley is more concerned with how his team gels.
“We do have holes. We have got to find ways to rebound because we are not big. I do feel like we can beat people down the floor to get easier baskets,” Motley said. “The next thing I am looking for is who is going to take the big shot late in the game? I have my ideas, but I won’t to know who is going to take it. We knew who was going to take it last year, now we have to find out who is gutsy enough to take that big shot this year. But I will say we are running up and down the floor hard and playing unselfish after seven days of practice. I feel like right now we are way ahead of where I thought we would be at this time.”