The second season of the Nikki Heath era tips off Tuesday with the same objective as her initial campaign — getting the Brownwood Lady Lions into the basketball playoffs.
To get over that hump, several Lady Lions will have to adapt to their expanded roles in the offense as Brownwood graduated three of its top scorers from last year’s 13-17 squad — Katie Chastain, Ashley Ledlow and current Abilene Christian University Wildcat Jensen Knickerbocker.
“We’ve got a good core group back from last year,” Heath said. “We lost Jensen, Katie and Ashley, but the kids that are back are strong and looking really good.
“When you lose some scoring a lot of people sometimes think you’re not going to be as good at scoring, but we have a lot of kids that can do a lot of things. We’re very versatile. We have girls that can play inside and outside. I have complete faith in them. They’re ready to take on a bigger role offensively than they did last year.”
Heath also anticipates the players’ familiarity with her system will help them overcome the losses to graduation. Last season, the Lady Lions were learning Heath’s system on the fly throughout the year.
“This is my second year so they’ve got the system down now and understand what I expect,” Heath said. “We’re so much more prepared now than we were last year. The system should be second nature to them and we should see a lot of things we didn’t do last year.”
The strength of this year’s Lady Lions team should be the posts, who are led by returning second-team all-district selection LaCresha Williams. Lauren Dees is also back and should see her playing time increase greatly, while Gabby Colbert — who split time between the JV and varsity last year — is also expected to make an immediate impact.
“LaCresha was all-district last year and Lauren is also back,” Heath said. “She’s got a signature hook shot that’s gotten even better.
“Gabby is very, very strong and very athletic. She has a lot of speed and she’s a great shooter. She complements LaCresha very well.”
Other contributors inside will include Courtney Monroe, Stephanie Jordy and move-in Rachael Stanley.
Honorable mention all-district point guard Hailey Williams will also see her role on the offense expand as well. Mostly a floor general a year ago, Heath will ask Williams to shoulder more of the scoring load. Alex Williams, who spent time playing both inside and outside last year, will see most of her time in the backcourt.
“Hailey is going to be shooting more and having to do more offensively,” Heath said. “Alex will be playing more outside for us. Last year she played inside and outside, but she’ll be mainly outside this year with the strong posts we have.”
Fellow guards Shalisa Hall, Moochie Galloway and Vanessa Ramirez are also back, while Ruby Rivera and move-in Sabrina Castillo are new additions to the roster.
“The kids played summer league and I saw some things they were doing better that are going to help us this year,” Heath said. “As a whole, we’re not even the same team. Physically we’re stronger and faster. We’re better up and down from the guards to the posts. They’re approaching it with the right frame of mind. Our goal is to get to the next level this year, which is the playoffs. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
The Lady Lions’ first test of the season comes at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Clyde. Other pre-district foes include Glen Rose, Robinson, Comanche, San Angelo Central, San Angelo Lake View, Lampasas, Abilene High, Breckenridge and trips to the Abilene Polk-Key City Classic, the Lubbock Caprock tournament and the Clyde tournament.
In order to reach the postseason, Heath feels the Lady Lions need to get off to a quick start and carry that momentum over into District 16-4A play.
“For us to be ready for the next level, we’re going to have to play consistently good basketball game in and game out,” Heath said. “Every game we’re going to have to play like it’s a big game. If we do that from the start, before you get to district, then you won’t have to turn it up a notch when district gets here. I want to see us play a high level of basketball to begin with, then see if we can sustain it the rest of the season.”
As for the district race, reigning 16-4A co-champions Midway and Copperas Cove are expected to be the class of the league once again. But Heath sees a spot for the Lady Lions in the postseason mix.
“Midway and Cove are still the teams to beat, but it’s a toss up after that,” Heath said. “We’re going to try and put our best game on the floor every time out and we’re going to try and beat everybody we play, period.”