Bryant looks to make splash in con­fer­ence

The Saline Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By Tony Le­na­han tle­na­[email protected]­ton­courier.com

BRYANT — Though the Bryant Lady Hor­nets lost three key se­niors to grad­u­a­tion off their 17-11 over­all, 6-8 in 6A Cen­tral Con­fer­ence play, the tough­est league in the state, the Lady Hor­nets still have plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence re­turn­ing from last year’s state quar­ter­fi­nals team which lost to even­tual cham­pion and fel­low Cen­tral mem­ber Fort Smith North­side.

“We lost three qual­ity kids, qual­ity play­ers and all of them are play­ing in ju­nior col­leges in Arkansas right now play­ing bas­ket­ball,” Bryant Coach Brad Matthews said.

The Lady Hor­nets, which opened this sea­son with a 64-34 ben­e­fit win over the E-stem Lady Mets last Thurs­day at the Hor­net’s Nest, grad­u­ated lead­ing scorer Kalia Walker (10.8 points per game), post player Robyn Gor­don (3.5) and post player Al­li­son Steen (2.3), but Bryant still re­turns ex­pe­ri­ence and tal­ent.

“I think we have eight se­niors and so many of them have con­trib­uted the last cou­ple years, since their sopho­more years,” Matthews

said. “They’ve got their eyes open to what high level bas­ket­ball is in our state. There are so many great Divi­sion I play­ers in our con­fer­ence.

“They did a tremen­dous job as sopho­mores re­spond­ing to that. We had a re­ally good year last year with the state quar­ter­fi­nals. We are very ex­cited for what the sea­son holds.

“Other than their ex­pe­ri­ence, they’re just re­ally good kids. They’ve worked hard since the sev­enth grade to get to this point to have a pos­i­tive year go­ing for­ward.”

The Lady Hor­nets do re­turn their next four top scor­ers, in­clud­ing se­nior point guard Tierra Trot­ter (9.9 PPG), 6-2 se­nior post player Mcken­zie Muse

(8.1), se­nior guard In­dia Atkins (7.8) and se­nior for­ward Ce­lena Martin (3.6), not to men­tion a few oth­ers which con­trib­uted off the bench last year also re­turn­ing.

So, Bryant does have the play­ers to pick up that miss­ing scor­ing slack.

“Tierra Trot­ter, she had 17 (Thurs­day vs. E-stem), that’s re­ally good,” Matthews said. “We need more scor­ing out of her. Where Kalia might go off for 20 in a night, I think through­out the course of the year we have so many kids that can go for 15 on any given night.”

Matthews also ex­pects even more im­prove­ment from Atkins, who had a big jump be­tween her sopho­more and ju­nior sea­sons.

“We’ve got In­dia Atkins, who’s played two years in a row now and has steadily ev­ery year got­ten bet­ter on the of­fen­sive end,” he said. “Her sopho­more year to her ju­nior year was im­mensely so much bet­ter of­fen­sively. She’s worked hard this spring and sum­mer to build upon that.

“Paris Atkins (In­dia’s sis­ter) is a sopho­more who started (Thurs­day). She’s got some mo­bil­ity that few kids have. We’re ex­cited about our team. It’s more of a team unit – work­ing to­gether, shar­ing the ball re­ally well.”

With ex­pe­ri­ence re­turn­ing be­ing an ob­vi­ous strength this year, so is im­proved ath­leti­cism in an ath­letic con­fer­ence.

“I think we’re to a point where we can match some ath­leti­cism with some of the best teams in our con­fer­ence, which there­fore are some of the best teams in the state,” Matthews said. “The Con­ways, the North Lit­tle Rocks, the North­sides, the Cen­trals, the Cabots, I think we’re to a point we can match some of their ath­leti­cism with some skill on top of it. We have the abil­ity to be ath­letic at four or five spots on the floor and it is a strong at­tribute of this team.”

But with the loss of Gor­don and Steen, the Lady Hor­nets will be more guard­laden with­out the height.

“The one draw­back to our group is our lack of height,” Matthews said. “We have Mcken­zie, 6-2, but the rest of our kids are not that tall.”

But, Matthews and as­sis­tant coach Joanna Scott ad­dressed that is­sue early on.

“We do lack height, how­ever, we knew that last spring break when Coach Scott sat down and kind of talked about the plan go­ing for­ward,” Matthews said. “Our lack of height was an is­sue and it’s one of the rea­sons we’re try­ing to play faster, try­ing to cre­ate a lit­tle more tempo on de­fense with turnovers, try­ing to play at a pace where height isn’t a detri­ment.”

But, the Lady Hor­nets won’t have smooth sail­ing play­ing in the tough­est con­fer­ence in the state with last year’s champ North­side (fin­ish­ing sea­son No. 1 in state), Con­way (No. 3) and North Lit­tle Rock (No. 14) top­ping the 6A Cen­tral’s tal­ented teams.

“North­side won a state cham­pi­onship and they’ve got three starters back,” Matthews said. “The (Jersey) Wolfen­barger kid, the state tour­na­ment MVP has just blown up over the sum­mer. North Lit­tle Rock had a ninth-grade 6-3, 6-4 post kid (Amauri Wil­liams) is a sopho­more now and she’s got mul­ti­ple Power 5 SEC of­fers. Cen­tral’s go­ing to be re­ally good. Con­way’s grad­u­ated some kids, but their ju­nior high has just been dom­i­nate. Cabot got a move-in who signed a Divi­sion I schol­ar­ship this week. Mount St. Mary’s was bet­ter last year and they’ve got every­body back.

“It’s the usual five and it’s a dog fight ev­ery night. It’s a tough league, but that’s why we’re here.”

RICK NA­TION/SPE­CIAL to The Saline Courier

Bryant se­nior In­dia Atkins de­fends in a 64-34 ben­e­fit game win over the E-stem Mets this past Thurs­day at the Hor­net’s Nest in Bryant. Atkins is one of many Lady Hor­nets re­turn­ing with ex­pe­ri­ence for the up­com­ing sea­son.

RICK NA­TION/SPE­CIAL to The Saline Courier

Bryant se­nior Lexi Tay­lor, 2, com­petes in a 64-34 ben­e­fit win over E-stem this past Thurs­day

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