In Dec. 3 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Sports Editor
Head coach Craig Pippen and the Russell County Lady Lakers are coming off a 14-12 season and 4-3 record in 16th district play. With quality varsity experience returning, Pippen hopes for big things this winter from his ball club.
“We are still a young team and unproven,” he said. “However, I think the pre-season predictions speak volumes on how far our girls have come in the past three years and it all has to do with how hard they have worked.”
Pippen said being the coach was the easy part.
“We teach, we motivate and we try to put our teams in a position to win ball games,” he said. “They have the tough job; committing to practice everyday, carrying and maintaining high GPA with a heavy school load and giving all they have when called upon.”
Pippen said his team have done just that.
He said last season the Lady Lakers came up short in their goal of a district title but learned from it.
“We have put our girls on a challenging strength program,” he said. “They are pushing each other to do better each day and I am very pleased with the mindset and work ethic they are applying in the weight room.”
He said not only will the new focus on weight training increase the team's physical strength, it will also help to increase their confidence level.
“I am very proud of our two seniors, Kim Pierce and Rachael Miller,” he said. “Our senior leadership is something that we will need down the stretch to be successful. Without it, a team has no direction.”
Pippen said both Pierce and Miller have a good understanding of what type of leadership the coaching staff needs from them.
Kim Pierce continues to get stronger and quicker as she rehabs from a torn ACL suffered last season.
“I am so proud of how Kim has handled this setback,” Pippen said. “I think she will be 100 percent heading into December. It will take much more than a knee injury to keep this warrior down.”
“I am really excited about coaching this group,” he said. “I think we can do some things this year we haven’t been able to in the past. We will try to extend the floor more this year with more full court pressure and to try to create more turnovers.”
He said he would like to get 40-50 percent of their points off defensive packages.
“We do not want to rely on our half court offenses to score,” he said “We have too many girls who can run the floor to become a half-court oriented team. I think its time to open the gate, sort to speak, and let our playmakers run the floor and make more plays.”
“When you have one of the best point guards in the region in LeeAnn Grider you better find ways to get her the ball and just let her go to work,” he said. “Good things happen when the ball is in her hands. She has reached the point where she can take a game over and she simply makes everyone around her better.”
Besides Grider, this years’ Lady Lakers have some players who can fill it up from beyond the arc with Blair Hoover, Kim Pierce, Julie Wethington and Regan Helm.
“With Lindsay Ramage and Heather Burton presenting a strong post game, the perimeter should be available this year for our shooters,” he said. “Other players that may also be called upon are Chandra Stephens, Amanda Cooper, Ally Harris and Madison Loy.”
Pippen said one of the key elements to this year’s success may rely on the play of senior Rachael Miller.
“Rachael does so much for our team that a lot of people just don’t notice,” he said. “She is extremely strong and can rebound the ball well. Her defense has drastically improved and she can handle the ball much better.”
Miller can play point guard when called upon but can also play the power forward spot when Russell County has three other guards on the floor.