Young cast of players to fill big roles for Lady Cats
The Thayer Lady Bobcats' three-year chokehold on the title of Class 2 District 9 champions loosened up last year, with the Lady Cats falling to eventual champion Gainesville in the district tournament, a loss that kept Thayer out of the state sectionals.
That the Lady Bobcats were kept out of the state tourney after back-to-back-to-back trips was hardly a shock since Thayer started last season without six graduated seniors, experienced players who accounted for well over half of the team's point total and took most of the big shots the prior year.
"The two years before last year, we won 50 ballgames and lost five," said Thayer Head Coach Steve Atkisson. "And then last year we went 15-11, which I felt was really respectable considering what we lost." Atkisson enters his 24th year as leader of the Lady Bobcats.
With just three seniors on last season's Lady Cats squad, plenty of underclassmen without much experience were thrust into the deep end as Thayer battled its way to a 3-4 mark in the South Central Association, with a whole new cast of players getting a turn in the spotlight.
Despite the lack of many seasoned veterans, Thayer grew and improved as the year went on, gaining the confidence that comes from gelling as a unit under fire, confidence that should serve the Lady Bobcats well this time around.
"We lost three seniors off last year's team, but we've got some key people coming back." Atkisson said. "LaShanda Horton (senior) averaged 19 points a game for us, and she's back. Heather Coffel (senior) is back after averaging seven rebounds a game and seven or eight points. Between Horton, Krysta Adams (sophomore) and Brittany Allen (senior), with two of them (Adams and Allen) coming off the bench, they hit exactly 100 3-pointers last year and shot 32 percent doing it. The rule is if you can make one out of three (3-pointers), that's like shooting 50 percent from 2-point range."
Although they should be a bit more experienced this year, the Lady Bobcats will still favor a young look, with three seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and five freshman in the thick of things.
One of those ninth-graders, Micah Stevens, has worked her way into the starting lineup and, from the look of things, will be a key component in Thayer's ultimate success this season.
"She's got the ability to step in and shoot the 3, as well as penetrate and get to the basket. She can really go. She's quick," said Atkisson. "This may be one of the quickest teams I've ever put on the floor. We're extremely quick, which should help us defensively. And then we want to get out on offense and score before the other team can set their defense. We're better when we play like that."
Pushing the issue on both ends of the court is what the Lady Bobcats are all about this year, as Atkisson wants his young troops to attack the defense to create three-on-two or two-on-one matchups that result in a lot of layups for easy points.
"That's what we want to do, release our guards ahead of the pack and get the ball over the top of the defense for some easy layups," he said. "With their quickness, Horton and Stevens should be able to make a lot of layups for us."
Ultimately, as was the case last year, how fast the Lady Bobcats can mature into a team and adjust to another influx of new faces will determine what chance Thayer has at earning a berth back into the hunt for a state crown.
"We're young and people may overlook us a little because of that. We may be a dark horse because of that, which I like to be in that position," Atkission said. "We've got eight kids that can contribute this year, so we should be fairly deep."
One thing is for certain. This year's edition of Thayer Lady Bobcat basketball and its full-throttle attack should be an entertaining group to watch.
"I think how we handle pressure defense and our ability to keep the games up-tempo will be two big keys for us this year," said Atkission. "If we can do those things and stay healthy, we should be able to win some games this year."