Unlike a year ago when his team often didn’t have enough members to scrimmage, second-year head coach Greg McCone said this year’s Lady Eagles basketball team is made up of 18 players.
Huntsville will open the 2019-20 season at home on Nov. 14 against Springdale as part of a benefit for the Arkansas Activities Association.
The Huntsville girls finished 8-19 overall and 4-7 last year in the 4A-1 Conference.
The Lady Eagles graduated just two seniors last year.
Senior post player Josie Sisk, who has signed to play at John Brown University, returns. Sisk was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last year before an injury ended her season.
Classmates Kendra Poor and Madison Phillips also return for the Lady Eagles.
This year’s team includes 11 sophomores, three of whom are battling for playing time.
“We’ve got 18 girls. I haven’t had to practice all year,” McCone said with a laugh.
“Last year, like if we had 10 kids and somebody would be absent, then coach had to get out there. I’m too old for that.”
McCone added, “There’s three sophomores that are fighting for some playing time and there will probably be more before the year’s over. They’re picking stuff up quick.”
Juniors returning include forwards Madisyn Thomas and Paige Bennett, both tall and athletic, along with shooting guard Grace Mayes, one of the team’s top three-point threats.
Among the top sophomores are guard Addisyn Routh and forward Tana Wilson, both of whom saw action as freshmen once the junior high season ended last year.
“There’s real good chemistry. All three grades like each other. It’s a hard-working group. The upper classmen understand that winning is more important and it’s pushed them. I think our skill level’s better, I think our practices are better, I think our attitude’s better. I think you’ll see that in the way they play and how many games they win.”
McCone said his three seniors have been solid thus far.
“They’ve done a great job leading us, getting everybody in practice. The had a good summer. Their attitudes are good,” McCone said.
“Two of them [Sisk and Poor] have started for two years so they’re going to be three-year starters, so I think we’ll see that on the court. I think turnovers will be less, which has been one of our achilles the last couple of years.”
Having a large group of sophomores will help at practice, but may also show benefits during games when it comes to pushing the starters.
“Another thing with having the numbers is not just giving somebody a break, but if somebody is messing up, there’s somebody to put in now, where there wasn’t in the past,” he said. “I think that gets in their mind that if I don’t perform then somebody else will.”
Thomas, Mayes and Bennett started as sophomores, often due to injuries with other players.
“All had to start some last year because of injuries, so they’ve got a little bit of time, so they’re really going to be experienced juniors,” McCone said.
“I look for all three of them to push to start and some of that’s because they had to play as sophomores. Even if they weren’t ready they just had to, not as many kids and the injuries we had last year.”
Sisk is one of the more athletic players in the area.
“Josie can be whatever she wants to be,” McCone said.
“She’s a great athlete, great kid, great attitude, strong, can run. I think something that she’s worked on is trying to prevent those injuries and staying within her frame,” he said.
Sisk has suffered injuries all of her first three years of high school ball.
“Don’t play so much outside your body. If they give you the jump shot, shoot it. She’s a good shooter and so getting out of her mind that she has to get the layup every time.
“Sometimes when she extends like that is when shes getting hurt, so we’re going to stop and shoot and be able to play all year.”
Sisk last year broke a bone in her hand while trying to make a play on defense.
“That’s going to be one of our goals is to jump up her scoring and to stay on the floor more.”
Huntsville will compete in the 4A-1 Conference with Berryville, Farmington, Gentry, Gravette, Harrison, Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove and Shiloh Christian.
Harrison finished 10-1 in conference last year with Pea Ridge and Berryville with two losses. Farmington finished 9-3 in league, followed by Gravette, Huntsville, Prairie Grove, Shiloh Christian and Gentry.
Huntsville lost numerous close games last year, including 33-30 to West Fork, 47-42 to Springdale Har-Ber, 47-46 to Bentonville West, 48-42 to Valley Springs and 53-50 to Providence Academy.
McCone again has scheduled tough nonconference games to open the season.
“We’ve got Springdale, Har-Ber, Bentonville, Bentonville West and Rogers, so five 7A schools,” he said.
“This group can handle it. They know it’s getting us ready for 4A.”
McCone said this year’s team will need to score more than last season to be successful.
“They’ve got to score, they’ve got to produce more. Our scoring has been down the last couple of years, so we’ve got to pick up our scoring,” he said.
“It’s an offensive game and that’s what everybody wants to see. I think we’re fine defensively, I think we’ve always been fine defensively, but we’ve got to score more points and you can’t do that turning the ball over.”
The annual Maroon and White games will begin at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9. Games will include seventh grades, junior high and varsity, both boys and girls.
McCone will be assisted by Ed Beck and Marcus Aynes.