Lady Rams Want AAC Title
What can the Bluefield College Lady Rams do for an encore after claiming a school-record 23 wins last season?
November 4, 2010
Doriane Davis during practice as the Lady Rams prepare for a tough 2010-11 season.
BLUEFIELD, Va. — What can the Bluefield College Lady Rams do for an encore after claiming a school-record 23 wins last season?
How about winning an Appalachian Athletic Conference championship? Don't count them out.
"I heard a quote that said, 'The three toughest challenges on your schedule are injuries, eligibility and selfishness'," Bluefield College third-year head coach Steve Hardin said. "I really like that and looking at it that is the key to us this year.
"Just because we have been injured early, we have had a little bit of eligibility issues early, but if we can keep those three things intact than I think the sky is the limit for this team."
There's little doubt the non-conference slate will help prepare the Rams for the post-Christmas league schedule.
"I wouldn't tell the girls this, but if we win 18 games this year I think we are a very good basketball team just for the pure fact because I think 18 wins is easily 25 last year," Hardin said. "We are just trying to prepare ourselves for the conference, the conference has a lot of new players in, got a lot of D-I transfers for almost every team so it is going to be tough one from January on.
"We just wanted to be ready for whenever January starts and conference time starts and hopefully try to bring a title home."
Bluefield will open its season on Friday in the Bluefield College Invitational at The Dome Gymnasium. Other schools involved in the two-day event includes defending AAC tournament champion Virginia-Wise, West Virginia Tech and Emmanuel College from Georgia.
The Lady Rams were able to compile a 23-11 record last season, finishing in a tie for third place, four years after the Lady Rams went 0-25. They did it without a single player averaging in double figures.
Hardin hopes that will change some this season.
"It is just a testament to how we played last year, we just beat people by numbers, and that was good," Hardin said. "I think we are a little more overall older and more skilled so that will really help us offensively so I think we are going to have a couple of double-figures scorers.
"I would like to have four, but I think we can have two or three that are averaging double figures. I don't care about it as much, but I just think we need it a little more this year than we did last year."
While the Rams lost productive seniors like Heather Ferrell, Holly Hudson and Brittany Whaley, Hardin has a solid collection of holdovers, along with seven newcomers, including transfers — Jasmin Washington and Doriane Davis — and freshmen like Princeton's Brittany Lankford — that will be vying for playing time for a unit that played as many as 15 players in games last season.
"We like to switch starting lineups a lot, last year we rotated 15 or so. I think we will rotate a good 12 at least and maybe more at times, but I think our 10 to 12 rotation is pretty good," Hardin said. "We are still very deep, we are just different deep this year. We are a junior-senior heavy team now for the first time so we need to get those girls a lot of minutes where before we played by bulk and hoped we could score it and that is why we went on runs.
"As you get older, you can understand the game a little better and they can handle a little more minutes than they did in the past."
Among the standouts for Bluefield will be guards Kia Gilliard, who was second to Ferrell in scoring last season, and first in many other categories, along with Kiara Williams, Kiara Honore' and improved Kendra Nutter.
'I think we are a lot better defensively this year and we are actually doing a better job in transition," Hardin said. "Last year even though we played fast, we didn't really score at times.
"We would get in droughts and I think even though we are probably not going to shoot the 3 as much this year, I do think our overall offense has gotten a lot better by our defense."
Both 5-foot-9 Takieya Rouse and 6-4 Katrina Morris have also impressed Hardin will their play. Antonia Cataldi, Megan Randall and De'Arra Darling — one of several walking wounded as the season begins — will also provide minutes in the lane.
"(Rouse) started for us last year, and she has the potential, she is probably our best overall player," said Hardin, who played collegiately at Tennessee Tech. "When she wants to play she can score it in bunches, but we just have to get her a little bit more consistent on scoring 12 every night instead of having a 25-point game and a zero-point game.
"Katrina, from last year to this year, it is like two different girls. We've had two scrimmages and she had a double-double in both scrimmages so she has really stepped up the load in scoring and rebounding."
Bluefield lost in the AAC tournament last year to upstart Tennessee Wesleyan, and lost in the NCCAA tourney, struggling in both games with the inability to put the ball in the basket. That's where the defense has to step in.
"We went into scoring droughts and hung our head and got a little frustrated on offensive execution at key times," Hardin said. "When we got defending and got a couple of steals and made a run we always looked good, but when another team makes a run, we need to try and sustain it a little better.
"They can score six straight points, but we can't have those runs of 10 or 12 straight points in a row, that is probably our key to that...Naturally our defense starts our offense, it is us dictating tempo the way we want it and being aggressive defensively really helps jump-start us."
Like any coach — including Hardin's father, Tony, who coached Steve at Elizabethton High School in Tennessee and is now coaching at Heritage High School near Knoxville — defense is Hardin's motto.
They'll need it against a non-conference schedule that includes a slate of clubs that play at or above the level the Rams are at in NAIA Division II, including a quartet of NCAA Division I squads.
"I went crazy on the schedule this year, I don't know if it was a good idea or not, but we'll see," Hardin said. "We did our job last year and turned this program around, but to get to that next level, you want to win championships and we wanted to play the toughest opponents we could play.
"I would put it up as the toughest schedule in NAIA. I don't think anybody plays a tougher schedule than we do this year. We are going to take some bruises in November, but I am hoping it will still make us better."
Courtesy of Brian Woodson; Bluefield Daily Telegraph and photo by Eric DiNovo