Lady Cavs setting higher goals

Published 9:59 pm Thursday, December 4, 2008

Alan Jones, Lakeland High’s second-year girls basketball coach, sat in the bleachers about 30 minutes before his team’s season opener Tuesday. As the Cavaliers stretched and watched the junior varsity game’s conclusion, Jones watched them.

“I think we’re better, but you never know until the ball goes up,” he said. “We’re going to find out tonight.”

Early indications are positive, for although Lakeland fell to visiting Oscar Smith in overtime, it displayed better athleticism, cohesiveness and general basketball savvy than last season’s squad. Those Cavaliers finished 6-16 overall and 5-13 in Southeastern District play, earning the right to be mauled by top-ranked King’s Fork in the district tournament’s first round.

Email newsletter signup

“Last year’s goal was the get to the tournament,” said Jones, who inherited a team that had won one district game the season before he arrived from an assistant coach’s role at Virginia Beach’s First Colonial High. “This year’s goal is to make it again and to be in a better position to win that first game and reach the regionals.”

It’s a lofty expectation in a tough district, but the Cavaliers should make a strong run. Standout forward Terika Lunsford returns for her senior season after signing to play for the University of Albany (N.Y) and at times dazzled Oscar Smith with silky-smooth swoops to the hoop from the right wing. She finished with a game-high 24 points.

However, the 5-foot-11 Lunsford also committed half a dozen turnovers, including a half-court violation in the fourth quarter’s closing seconds and missed a free throw that could have tied the score in overtime. That’s not to highlight Lunsford’s failings, but to point out that she alone can’t be expected to carry the Cavaliers to victory.

“This year we have more players with more offensive confidence and that should take some of the weight off Terika,” said Jones, adding that this season’s team has more height and depth than its predecessor. “I don’t see why our improvement shouldn’t translate into more victories. I think we’re ready to take that next step as a program.”

To do that, Lakeland will need poised play from point guard Kaylyn Chatman, who was sometimes frustrated as a first-year starter last winter. The 5-foot-7 senior plays hard, but her passes to teammates cutting under the hoop were often high Tuesday. Over the course of the season, however, Jones thinks Chatman’s improved ball skills and added emotional maturity will help the team.

“She has to be an extension of me on the court,” the coach said. “She has to be my mind in action. Taking over that leadership role is a lot of pressure.”

Ashley Johnson, a 6-0 junior who played center much of last season, has moved to forward, making way for Tashah Woodus, a 6-1 sophomore who will start in the paint. Quanisha Knight, a junior shooting guard up from the junior varsity, has also claimed a starting berth, with 5-8 classmate Porshe Garner likely to log a lot of backcourt minutes as well.

“I try to be as positive as I can with our players,” Jones said. “Stability in a program is huge and I want them to know I’m committed to them and that if we stick together, this team will continue to grow.”