JCHS girls should be strong with several veteran players returning to the court
By Jonathan PleasantThe Johnson County Lady Longhorns are looking at a tough season ahead with some very strong rival teams coming back to the court. Fortunately the Lady Horns will be sporting a formidable team of their own, with veteran players like seniors Sarah Swift and Kristin Roark, and juniors Brooke Brown, Brandy Dugger, and Brionna Reece forming the core of Johnson County’s varsity team. Having lost Nikki Farrow from last year’s senior crop, the Lady Longhorns have been looking to fill the vacancy, but as head coach Todd Whittemore pointed out there has been no lack of talent stepping up to the challenge.
“Nikki may not have scored a lot, but we’re going to miss her toughness for sure,” Whittemore said. “Basically we have four starters returning, and this will be their third year in a row starting. We’ve got several players that may step up. We’ve got Kristin Roark, she may be that fifth starter, sophomore Mary Taylor, new freshman Kourtney Tolley from Hampton, then also Gianna Lay and Amanda Potter. Any of those five girls could be our fifth starter, and it might be all of them before the year is through.”
Besides Potter and Tolley, the team this season also includes freshmen Victoria Bernard and Kelsey Duperry and sophomore Dawn Lewis, highlighting a well rounded and mixed group of girls who will all likely contribute this season. Even more importantly, all of the players have good experience with the game and even the newest players show promise. “Our new girls have transitioned very well,” said Wittemore. “Our veteran girls have accepted them so quickly because they have good attitudes and work hard. It’s easy to accept somebody when you know they have a great attitude. I think this year should be another year of progression heading in the right direction. We’re getting better.”
Even with their strong lineup the Johnson County girls will have their hands full this season. Many of their toughest opponents like Elizabethton and Sullivan East are looking at very talented lineups as well, and as a result Whittemore has been keeping a close eye on how the playing field is stacking up in an effort to prepare the Lady Longhorns for what’s ahead. According to the Coach, “Happy Valley and Unicoi both have new coaches. I don’t know what to expect from Sullivan North, but Sullivan East has a lot coming back and they have a great coach. Elizabethton has got some great new talent.”
Whittemore went on to explain why he is worried about the Lady Cyclones, “Last Saturday in the last minute of a close game they had their two new freshmen twins in. One got a steal out of bounds, slung it up the court to the other twin who dropped it for a three. So, that kind of concerns me that in a close game in the last 30 seconds, who do I see stand out? They’re freshmen and they haven’t lost a game in two years. In middle school they went 48 and 0. Elizabethton is going to be tough as nails and they keep reloading. Unicoi has a new coach, so I don’t really know, but they’ve got their girl back who has scored over 1000 points. Even the teams that we play out of conference, like Unaka, have got all seniors. Hampton has all seniors this year; Cloudland has their big girl coming back. There are a lot of veteran teams out there and were going to have to play tough as nails.”
With only a few practices and some early scrimmages so far, there has only been limited opportunities to assess the girls’ standings, but Whittemore is sure that there will be some room for improvement early on. “We’ve got to make more free throws,” Whittemore said. “We’re doing better versus the press, doing better not turning over, but we’ve got to hit our lay ups and hit our free throws. We lost to Cocke County by three; we missed 12 lay-ups. We lost to Morristown West by 10; we missed nine layups. Layups and free throws, nobody is on you and you’ve got to convert. If we do that we’ll give ourselves more chances to win. We’re still rusty, but it’s starting to come off.”