Christie Jennings has a simple formula for making her seventh season as Stonewall girls basketball coach one of her best. In short, Jennings expects less to be more and more to even better for the Lady Longhorns in 2010-2011.
Jennings, who saw her team win fewer than 18 games last season for the first time since she took over the program in the fall of 2004, has all five starters back from that 16-12 squad. Despite the experience of her returnees, though, she expects all five to see the floor less because she has more weapons on her bench than at any time since she arrived at Stonewall.
“My starters have a lot on their shoulders, but their minutes have been cut down,” said Jennings, whose veteran club (ranked No. 19 in Class A) started the season with victories over Crowder (70-41) Tuesday and Colbert (49-39) Friday and will visit Pittsburg Tuesday. “We’re going to be a better team because we have a deeper bench, and our older kids have been real receptive to that team formula.
“I think the two biggest keys are that my seniors are real seasoned and a lot more mature and ready to take that leadership role, and my younger kids have grown up and matured tremendously,” she said. “That adds to our depth.”
Jennings expects to have four seniors — Brettney Brady, Savannah Burwell, Brittany Gipson and Bradianne Daniel — and one junior (Paige Curtis) in her starting lineup most nights, but her second five — senior Amanda Transue, junior Cheyanne Miller and sophomores Breann Gipson, Kim Helms and Haley Snell — and new assistant coach Brian Davis figure to add dimensions the Lady Longhorns were missing a season ago.
“Breann, Cheyanne and Kim all played a lot last year, and all three got seven or eight minutes more Tuesday than they got last year,” Jennings said. “We’ve got kids coming off the bench who can just SCORE. This is by far the deepest team I’ve had at Stonewall.”
Davis, a former head basketball and softball coach at Tupelo, was the Lady Longhorns’ hitting instructor this fall and and has taken a big role in coaching the Stonewall defense this basketball season.
“I’m a man-to-man coach and (Davis) came over with more of a zone mentality,” Jennings said. “We feel like we have the best of both worlds.
“We still work on our man-to-man but with him we have more of a zone mentality, so we should be covered,” she added. “I’ve never had an assistant, and we’re really excited to have him here.”
Jennings said that, like Davis, all of her players bring something different to the party, which should allow the Lady Longhorns to adapt to any situation.
“We mix it up — we try to play to each group’s strengths and stay away from their weaknesses,” she explained. “My younger kids can do more out of a zone press, and my older kids can do more out of a man. We want to play full-speed and all-out without having to worry about getting into foul trouble, and I’ve never been in that position before.”
Despite her team’s newfound depth, Jennings said things will continue to run through Brady, her senior point guard.
“She’s a calming, steady force out there,” Jennings said of Brady, who led the Lady Longhorns in scoring last season at about nine points per game. “She’s a really smart player, she can rebound, she can get the ball to the right people, and she can shoot the outside shot.”
Burwell, the team’s second leading scorer as a junior, is also expected to help loosen up opposing defenses, and Jennings said her other three starters also do a good job of fulfilling their roles at both ends of the floor.
“Savannah is as good as any perimeter player I’ve had, and we’ve had some good ones at Stonewall,” Jennings said. “Brittany Gipson is just an all-around good player.
“Paige Curtis (at 5-9) starts in the post and she goes to the boards real hard,” she added. “Bradianne is only 5-5, but she led us in rebounds last year. She and Cheyanne Miller and Kim Helms are as tough as they come.”
Back-up center Breann Gipson showed in Tuesday’s win just how dangerous the Stonewall bench can be when she led the team with 18 points in the victory over Crowder. Jennings said having scorers up and down her roster should make the Lady Longhorns a headache for opposing coaches.
“I think every night we could have a new leading scorer,” she said. “We were balanced last year, we just didn’t have as many kids contributing. That’s going to make us tough to prepare for. All of my teams in the past have had two or three kids we knew could go get us 10, 15, 18 points a game; this year I’ve got 10 kids like that.”
In addition to having more options on offense than she has had in years, Jennings said her depth should also enable her team to pressure the ball from one end of the floor to the other and offset any mismatches down low.
“I think we’re quicker than we were last year,” Jennings noted. “We’re not concerned about being bigger, because we’re going to put enough pressure on that the game isn’t dominated by a post player.”
Stonewall figures to be one of the contenders in what is shaping up as wide open race for the Pontotoc Conference girls title this season. Jennings said her conference schedule — which begins at home Friday against an Asher team that was one of the most improved in the conference last season — and a tough non-conference slate should ready the Lady Longhorns for a solid postseason run.
“Our conference isn’t going to be a cakewalk, and we also have Latta and Konawa (a state tournament team in Class 2A last season) on our schedule,” she said. “We have a good mix. We need to win the games we’re supposed to win and sneak in a few that are going to be tougher for us.
“I don’t want to say the sky’s the limit, but I hope we don’t reach our potential until about February,” Jennings added. “I think it’s going to take us until after Christmas to be really fluid.”