Lady Cavs poised for more growth

Published 1:37 pm Thursday, December 24, 2015

The talented but few-in-numbers Lakeland High School girls’ basketball team finished its pre-Christmas schedule with a 66-62 home loss on Friday to Grassfield High School, but the Lady Cavaliers have reason to feel optimistic this season.

Lakeland High School sophomore guard Makayla Dickens is one of the Lady Cavaliers’ leaders contributing to their improved performance as of late.

Lakeland High School sophomore guard Makayla Dickens is one of the Lady Cavaliers’ leaders contributing to their improved performance as of late.

They hold a record of 4-3 and return key players from the 2014-15 team that went 8-15 overall, which was a significant improvement over the team’s 2013-14 campaign.

Lakeland moves to Conference 27 this year after the school shifted down to the Virginia High School League’s Group 3A classification.

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“I think we’ll be competitive,” Lady Cavaliers coach Brandey Blunt said. “We’ll be very competitive.”

While she has not had a chance to see Lakeland’s new conference rivals play, she said she believes her team will do well “because that’s just the confidence that I have in the girls.”

This season’s small roster features balance, with three seniors, three juniors and three sophomores, but injuries have disrupted that balance from the start.

Junior Alasia Lee has been out for medical reasons since the beginning of the season, while senior Mikayla Gilchrist suffered a concussion in the first game of the season.

As was evidenced by the Grassfield game, a key area of needed improvement for the Lady Cavs is defense, and “we have to learn to play defense without fouling,” the coach said.

Having to sit a player in foul trouble with a roster of only seven or even nine is particularly costly.

Lee and Gilchrist are expected back by Lakeland’s first game of 2016, which will be Jan. 5 at Indian River High School.

The Lady Cavaliers will not have many home games this year, with only six on the schedule compared to 11 non-tournament road games, but Blunt does not mind this.

“We play a lot better on the road,” she said, adding the team has proven to be more cohesive under those circumstances.

Helping lead Lakeland this season is a trio of sophomore guards: Kayla Barnes, Makayla Dickens and Brianna Copeland.

Barnes can be a key impact player on defense, and Blunt said that when she plays defense well, her offense soars.

“She brings that spark that our team needs defensively to the game,” the coach said. “She talks, she makes sure her team is in the right position.”

Dickens has a high basketball IQ and brings consistency, Blunt noted. Her teammates rely upon her to take charge and make good decisions with the ball, as well as score.

“Her reaction time is very good,” Blunt said. “Loose balls and things, she can get them. If they’re near her, she’s going to get them.”

Like Barnes and Copeland, she likes to get her whole team involved, the coach noted.

Blunt said that when opponents key on Barnes and Dickens, Copeland makes them pay.

Alasia Lee will be an important presence in the post, and 6-foot-1-inch junior Deja Freeman should become more of a factor there as the season progresses.

Lakeland will play next in Boo Williams’ 2015 Christmas Classic, which runs Dec. 28-30 at the Boo Williams Sportsplex in Hampton.