The Effingham County Lady Rebels basketball team will enter the 2007-08 campaign with a lot of experience — and still thinking about an experience they don’t want to repeat.
The Lady Rebels bring back four starters from a team that went 15-11 and fell 38-35 to Fayette County in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs. That loss, after Effingham sprinted out to a 12-0 lead, and those 11 defeats still sting the Lady Rebels.
“They said, ‘Coach, we don’t like losing in double digits,’” coach Nate Hayes said of his team. “When I met with them, they set goals. They said the state tournament is something we always do. We’ve been four of the last seven years. They want to get to the round of 8 and the final four.”
Junior guard Kyana Barber averaged nine points, five rebounds and three assists a game, and even more is expected from her this season.
“Kyana’s game is much better,” Hayes said. “She worked all summer.”
Barber played on an AAU team and the 6-foot-1 junior is drawing interest from Miami, Central Florida and Georgia Southern. At 6-1, Barber poses matchup problems for whoever is sent to guard her.
“A guard can’t guard her,” Hayes said. “You put a forward on her, and they’re not quick enough to guard her. I would hate to play against us and try to match up with her.”
A football assistant coach, Hayes has not had much time to work with his team in the preseason. There were just 11 days between the final football game of the season and today’s season opener with Jenkins.
“It’s kinda tough,” he said. “I had to jump in and shift gears. But once I got to meeting with the girls, that gets me ready to go, because they’re excited.”
Returning most of the pieces from last year’s team also has been a help in the preseason, since that means Hayes doesn’t have to do a lot of teaching to his veteran group.
“Continuity — that’s the key,” Hayes said. “Having a senior team and knowing what we’re doing, we don’t have to start from scratch. I mention a couple of things, and they just pick it up.”
Guard Marie Fogle is one of four seniors on the roster and is the team’s leader, along with being its most dependable outside shooter.
“Marie has gotten so much better,” Hayes said. “She’s knocking down shots.”
Sierra Goldwire (6-1) and Skky Bean (5-6) are the other returning starters, and the Lady Rebels also bring back 6-1 junior Shaniqua Goldwire. The Goldwires will have to make up for the loss of the graduated Utivia Barnes, who led the Lady Rebels in scoring and rebounding last year.
Where Hayes has questions is on the bench.
“We’ve got to find some key reserves,” he said.
What has transpired so far is a chemistry that might have been lacking, and the mix of experienced players and more untested Lady Rebels is proving to be a good blend.
“This could be the best team we’ve had in the last couple of years,” Hayes said. “They’re playing with a purpose and a bond. Last year, I don’t think we had the kind of bond they needed to have. This year, they have rallied around each other.”
Last year, the Lady Rebels didn’t get into their Region 3-AAAA schedule until January, and two overtime losses to Glynn Academy cost them. They meet the Lady Red Terrors earlier this season, traveling to Brunswick on Dec. 7.
They don’t play another region game until Jan. 4.
The schedule includes Class AA quarterfinalist Screven County, Class A final four participant Savannah Country Day, Calvary, which went to the second round of the Class A tourney, and Vidalia.
The Lady Rebels also will play in a Christmas tournament in Columbia, S.C. But the region games bear even more importance this year, since the region tournament will be hosted at the highest girls’ seed.
“You never know what to expect from a season,” Hayes said. “We haven’t played a game yet. We have a lot of pieces. But we don’t have a lot of depth.”