Not long after the South Effingham Lady Mustangs’ season-ending loss to Cross Creek in the 2007 Region 3-AAA tournament, coach Stacey Womack began to look forward to the 2007-08 campaign.
“I’ve been ready since it was over last year,” she said. “I’m very ready.”
It had little to do with putting the 3-23 mark behind her and the team and more to do with continuing the building process that was under way. Her charges played spring leagues, summer leagues and went to camps in an effort to sharpen their skills.
“I feel like they played a lot more basketball this offseason than they have in years past,” Womack said. “About five or six of them probably got 25-26 games in over the summer. That’s almost a whole season of experience.”
It’s still a very young team, too, even with a lot of returning players from last year. Only Candice Kennedy and Ciara Knowles are seniors; they are also the only two players back who started the year on the varsity squad last season.
“There’s quite a few who have played a lot over the summer and feel they are ready to prove the hard work has paid off,” Womack said.
Iesha Reese played junior varsity last year but is ready to make the move up, according to Womack.
“I feel she is going to make a difference this year,” the second-year coach said.
Sophomores Katie Durrence and Whitney Jones return and each got tons of playing time down the stretch. Jones finished with a 15-point performance in the finale against Cross Creek.
“Whitney and Katie stepped up at the end of last year,” Womack said, “and they worked hard in the offseason. Both of them have matured a lot over the summer. Whitney has developed a knack for going to the basket. She wants to score.”
Durrence, who played point guard in extensive minutes last year, worked on her ballhandling skills in the offseason.
“She has really worked on running our offense and handling the press,” Womack said. “She has worked a lot on her outside shot. We hope that will be a threat and open it up inside for us this year.”
Katherine Perrin will be called upon to take over the rebounding roles vacated by the graduated Monasha Sams.
Also joining the varsity ranks this year are Layne Graf, Brittany Davis and Gabrielle Wright, who will play guard, and Tiffany Burch, a transfer from the Augusta area who will play the post.
“We’re going to be young,” Womack said. “But that’s where you have to start when you’re trying to build a program. We’re really going to be depending on Ciara and Candice to lead by example.”
The region hasn’t gotten any easier, with Liberty County returning Metra Walthour and Nisha Adams and Hephzibah and Burke County still in the region. Yet Womack thinks the Lady Mustangs can be competitive.
“We should be right there with Burke and St. Vincent’s, and Richmond Hill is going to be good,” she said. “My hopes are we have improved enough to be able to compete with those schools this year.”
Womack also has two new assistants this year, Brittany Wetherington and Kendrick Buckner. Buckner is also the girls soccer coach and Wetherington played collegiately at Berry College. Womack believes Wetherington’s playing experience will be a plus for her staff this year.
“We’re still in the process of building this program where it needs to be,” Womack said. “It’s going to take some time to be on top. I feel we are going to have a good base.
“I like the direction we’re headed in. All 10 girls on the varsity are excited to be here. They’re all looking to improve their game, and that is essentially what I want in a basketball player.”