When the Altus High School girl’s basketball team takes the court for the first time this season, there will be some noticeable changes to the roster and the coaching staff. The most notable and perhaps most difficult change is the absence of longtime assistant coach Janice Hardwick who passed away on Sept. 23 at the age of 65.
Coach Stacie Terbush, former player and lifelong friend of Hardwick, said the transition will be tough.
“It’s not easy,” Terbush said. “I’m beginning to think there is the life thereafter where they talk to you from Heaven above because there has been some weird stuff that has happened. We were trying to work on our O-State offense and for some reason, that offense was not in my playbook and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I came back over here and it was just here laying on my desk. Then I went to Firo Pizza in Lawton and her number is 30, and that was the number I got while waiting on my pizza. It was just a weird week.”
Since Hardwick’s passing, coach Tommy Tucker has stepped in an attempt to fill the void left behind by the legendary coach. The sidelines will be a little bit quieter this season without Hardwick’s trademark yell spurring the players on, but her passing has given the players plenty to play for.
But they’ll have to figure out how to do it without some of the team’s key players from last season.
Gone is the scoring prowess of Mariah Watson and Kiandra Knight along with the tough-as-nails resiliency of Jimmie Dollins but as for play makers, the Lady Bulldogs return several core players and many who have been patiently waiting for the opportunity to step up and prove their worth.
Nia Hill returns for her senior season as does Kelsee Baker, Angela Edwards and Sha’Quaya French. Jordan Benway and Haley Leyja enter their junior seasons with a chance to expand on their standout sophomore seasons and make an immediate impact on the court for the Lady Bulldogs.
New to the team is Navajo transfer Kaylen Carroll and three freshman — Lakysia Johnson, Genesis Campana and Brianna McQuiggan — Terbush said could be immediate assets to the team.
The good thing for this Lady Bulldogs team seems to be the depth which Terbush said is deeper than they have been in years.
“We’re probably deeper this year than we ever have been,” Terbush said. “Coach Hardwick is probably going to be mad as heck at me, but we’re going to try to play some pressure man-to-man this year so I’ve got Tucker working with them on that. As deep as we are and as quick as we’re going to be, I think we can do it. Some of them like it and some of them don’t, but we’re going to try it this year.”
Where the Lady Bulldogs excel on paper is in scoring.
There is no shortage of threats with Benway fighting for tough rebounds and following through with the putback, Hill roaming the floor with an ability to sink a shot from nearly every position, Leyja finding her groove and making defenders pay and others who will have the potential to become big time threats for Altus.
Hill was starting to become more of a threat last year as the season progressed and Terbush said she expects her to be much better this year.
“Nia better score about 20 points per game this season,” Terbush said. “If we can get Haley to cut loose and shoot the ball some, she ought to be one of our key scorers. Of course, we have Benway under the bucket. French is a post player and Edwards can play inside or out as can Baker because she’s pretty physical. I thought Carroll was going to be more of a post player but she has a really nice three-point shot so she can play inside or out.”
Terbush said she also expects to use McQuiggan and Annie Petzold as her backup point guards while also finding room in the offense for Johnson, Campana and Jerzey Ybarra.
As for what the coaches have seen so far during scrimmages, Terbush said the team should be better off in several areas of the game.
“I think we’ll be better off defensively because we’ll have more we can rotate in and out off the bench,” Terbush said. “Hill and Baker will probably just have to be tough and stay in and get after it, but those two are mentally tough enough to stay in the game.”
As the team has come together, Terbush said there has been some noticeable improvement from some of the team’s best players — namely Hill, Baker and Benway — and things appear to be looking up for the team.
Last year, the Lady Bulldogs struggled with closing out games. They built leads only to falter down the stretch and especially seemed to struggle going into the last six games of the season where they finished 1-5 to fall to 11-11 on the season.
Terbush said she hopes that is rectified this season with the amount of talent this team will have on the court at any given moment.
“Nia has definitely improved,” Terbush said. “Baker has really come along. French has had some great moments. We have been especially impressed with Edwards. She has been working really hard and has improved. Jordan hurt her ankle on Friday so we’re having to baby an ankle sprain right now but she’s just a workhorse. Petzold’s shot just keeps improving so yeah, we’ve seen some pretty good improvement this year. I just hope we can score this season because that has been a thorn in our side.”
As for expectations, Terbush said she wants to go big.
“Hopefully, we’re going back to the state tournament this year,” Terbush said.
The Lady Bulldogs begin the season on the road at Elgin at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 28.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.