Bryant looks to make splash in conference
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.”
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.
Bryant senior Lexi Taylor, 2, competes in a 64-34 benefit win over E-stem this past Thursday