Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When the queen of the castle needs help, she shouts … “Guards.”  North Greenville University women’s basketball coach Jayne Arledge will most likely do the same and yell “guards, guards, and more guards”

during the 2009-2010 season when her team needs a lift, because that will be the strength of this year’s Crusaders.
“We have some very experienced guards this season,” Arledge acknowledged.  “With Bridget Smith (Grad. 5-9 Weaverville, NC 4.9 ppg), Whitney Smith (Grad. 5-8 Leeds, AL 6.3 ppg/6.3 reb), Nikki Wood (SR 5-8 Spartanburg, SC 12.3 ppg/96 asst, 46 steals), and Jacquetta Golden (SR 5-6 Greenville, SC 7.5 ppg) leading the way, we’ve got a great group of guards. 

Whitney and Bridget have both graduated and are working on their master’s at NGU and finishing their eligibility.  Jacquetta, Nikki and Whitney have played a lot the past three years, so we’ve got serious depth there.  Bridget has been on team three years and is coming off playing soccer at NGU, so she’ll add a lot to that position.  She is a slithery type of player around the basket, and she adds a special dynamic on inbounds plays.   Other than those four, the rest of our team is all freshmen and sophomores.  So, we’ve got a bunch of young kids,” Arledge added.

“Since we have so many guards, there will be a lot less playing time for some of them, but we hope that when they do go in they’ll be more aggressive and leave it all on the court and not save anything.  That intensity could mean a lot more wins.  We might even play four guards in some situations.  Whitney can also play the ‘4’ spot for us too; she’s strong and is a great rebounder.  We might throw that at some teams as well.”

Arledge, who begins her 29th year at NGU, knows she’s got a young squad, but is excited because she will have more speed and quickness. “We are so much younger this season, but we also have a lot more athleticism, especially at the guard slot.   With the strength of our guards, we will try to be more aggressive; we’ll try to up the tempo and begin pressing teams more so that we make them do things they don’t want to do.  It’s very easy for a team to get laid back and let teams do what they want.  However, if you’re small like we are, we’ve got to use our speed and aggressiveness to press and get a few steals and some easy layups.  We hope to become a better pressing team.” 

North Greenville opened its campaign in high fashion on November 2 when the Crusaders traveled to Raleigh, NC to play an exhibition against … get this … North Carolina State.  “That was an amazing experience for us,” Arledge said.  “It got our players fired up and they worked real hard leading up to that game because they didn’t want to go over there and get embarrassed.  We didn’t expect to win the game, but we set a goal that said if we worked that hard during every game, we’ll have a very successful season.”

“We think we’re better this year player for player,” Arledge said.  “We’ve got more speed, but we did lose Amanda Milner (13.1 ppg/6.9 reb).  We have to find somebody who can fill in for those 13 points and eight rebounds every game.   She was our ‘go to’ player for several years, and anytime you lose a player like that, it’s tough.  We’ve just got to go find somebody else who can score the big basket or grab the big rebound when we need it.  That’s just the way basketball is.” 
“Our whole season will depend upon how our young kids come out and play,” Arledge noted.  “They have to learn that you have to show up every game.  The NC State game hopefully taught us that, but it’s a long season.” 

Besides the four seniors at guard, NGU has several other weapons at that position.  The team’s returning scorer from last season is sophomore guard Karly Stache (SO 5-5 Louisville, TN), who averaged 13.4 ppg and hit 76 3’s.  “We expect Carly to keep up the production from 3-point range, but I think she’ll be even better this season.  It’s uncanny how good she can be shooting the ball.  Against NC State, she was 0-5 in the first half, but then hit 3-4 in the second.   She’s the type that wants to be a scorer; she wants to shoot.  That’s what you need.  You’ve got to have people who want to score.”

Other returnees Arledge is counting on to make a significant contribution to getting the Crusaders back in the NCCAA National Tournament are Christina Carlis (SO 5-8 McDonough, GA 8.7/4.6), Erin Gray (SO 5-11 Lawrenceville, GA 3.5/3.5), and Brandy Smith (SO 5-9 Indian Trail, NC – redshirt).   “Chris Carlis made some amazing moves against NC State in our exhibition game,” Arledge exclaimed.  She did some amazing dribbling and went behind her back and had their crowd ‘ooing and ahing’.  She’s a great ball handler. 

She had a bad back most of last year so she was off and on, but we expect her to come back strong from that.  I hope we don’t have to push her so much where that will bother her this season.  Brandy had a knee injury last year, but coming into this season, she really impressed us against NC State.  She works very hard and is not going to back down from anybody.  She’s tough inside and she’ll take you out She doesn’t mind body to body contact.  She a hard worker and doesn’t mind beating and banging.  Erin has really improved at the post position and she’ll play a lot for us inside.  She’s definitely a lot more determined this year. “
When Arledge yells ‘guards,’ she truly hopes all the Crusader newcomers come running as well to help lead the Crusaders back into the post-season playoffs.  The top new players include Rashmi ‘Ra Ra’ Vanhook (FR 6-1 Pittsboro, NC). 

“Our new big player is ‘Ra Ra,’ and she has to learn what she can and can’t do on a college basketball court,” Arledge noted.  “She is still in the high school mode a little, because she tries to back you down with dribble.  You can’t do that in college, but she’ll learn what it takes to score in the college game; she’ll figure that out.  Raven Warner (FR 5-6 St. George, SC) is super quick.  She’s as fast as anybody I’ve seen in a long time.  She’s going to be special.  I really like her attitude and ability; I’m very excited about her,” Arledge said. 

The next newcomer is Anjelica Wilcox (FR 5-9 Duluth, GA).  “Anjelica is coming off the NGU volleyball team and she got a little behind, but she’s very basketball smart.  She makes good decisions that others don’t and that will earn her playing time.  She’s also a very good three point shooter.”  Krisceda Cotton (FR 5-7 Gaston, SC) is coming off a redshirt year following an injury and she could be the inside rebounding key Arledge is searching for.  “Krisceda can be a rebounding machine in practice, and we hope to see that in games,” Arledge said.  “She’s not that tall, but she’s strong and we hope she can go out and do a lot for us inside.  I think she’s going to do well, and we expect her to come up big for us this year.”

“Porsha Graves (FR 5-5 Graham, NC) transferred here from Johnson C. Smith University and she played volleyball there but wanted to play basketball, so she came to North Greenville,” Arledge said.  “She sat out all last year with no basketball, so it might take her awhile to get back into game.  She is a very heady point guard, and she’ll do some good things for us.” 
“Landrie Fox (FR 6-0 Micaville, NC) is a tall ‘4’ player who also likes to go outside and shoot it out there as well.  We will need her to be tough inside and step outside and shoot there as well.”
With the departure of Milner, The Crusaders are auditioning several players to replace her inside.  “Our post players are very young, and it will take awhile to for them to develop,” Arledge added.  “At NC State, they had a hard time because everybody was eight inches taller than them.

Arledge truly believes that this year’s team can be better than last year’s 13-15 club that came up just short of the NCCAA South Regional Tournament.  “We definitely want to get back to the national tournament this year,” Arledge pointed out.  “We haven’t been there last two or three years, and we want to get back to Indiana to see how we measure up.  That’s a big goal for us this year.” The Crusaders will get an early test of how they’ll be in the South Region when they play Southern Wesleyan Monday, Nov. 23 and Emmanuel Tuesday, Nov. 24 in an early preview of the season.  “We’re going to see those two teams in a classic at Southern Wesleyan so we’ll see how we are early in the year,” Arledge said.  “We’ll know immediately how far we have to go to get there at the end of the season.  It should be North Greenville and Emmanuel battling for the national berth, but you never know this early.”

NGU will open the regular season against Southern Athletic Conference team Newberry College Tuesday, Nov. 17, and will also play Wingate and Brevard of the SAC.  The Crusaders will also square off against Augusta State, USC Aiken, and Lander University of the Peach Belt Conference in addition to its regular slate of games against regional opponents.   The Crusaders have a strong schedule this season, but Arledge is quick to point out its not easy.  “We’ve got a good schedule with some tough competition, but it’s not a simple one by any means.  We have to show up every game.” 

“Sometimes it’s bad to start off a season with tough competition because you get beat several games in a row, and that can sometimes kill your spirit and early momentum,” she said.  “If that happens and we can’t recover, it’ll be a long year.  But, if you keep getting better and better, then by the end we might be playing really good basketball.  I’ve seen teams lose five in a row and pack it in, but I’ve also seen the other as well where you could lose five and then go on and get motivated to have a great season.  Hopefully, this will be one of our better years.” 
So, if you hear Coach Arledge screaming, “Guards!” you’ll know her bench is full of the said position as she prepares the Crusaders for a winning season at NGU!