By Anthony Sizemore, Student Sports Reporter
The Alice Lloyd Lady Eagles are coming off a season in which they finished third in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletics Conference. Unfortunately, the squad stumbled down the stretch, losing their last three games of the season including their first round KIAC tournament game against Midway College.
Coach John Mills and the Lady Eagles have moved on to the 2014-15 campaign. ALC is expected to be one of the favorites again this season in the KIAC.
Perhaps the greatest indicator of how good the team will be immediately is how they will able to overcome the departure of Ariel Nickell and Courtney Crowder. Nickell was the complete package. The Tazewell, Tennessee native not only led the team in scoring, rebounds and steals but also became the all-time leading scorer in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletics Conference. Crowder was a tough on-ball defender and did the little things that don’t always show up in the box score.
“Nickell was a tremendous offensive weapon; she could score at will inside and over the four years, we really developed her perimeter game,” Mills explained. “She could put the ball on the floor and create offense. A lot of great players are great in one facet of the game. Ariel was an exceptional defender. She had the most steals on our team and the most charges taken. People don’t realize how active she was away from the ball. Ariel was a warrior. You don’t replace someone like that with one player. Crowder was our top defender and contributed majorly in a lot of games.”
Fortunately, Mills is not left with a bare cupboard, as he returns two time all-conference performer Carla Booth. Booth, a guard out of Warfield, KY, is entering her senior season and Coach Mills has lofty expectations for one of the premiere players in the league. The guard averaged 19.8 points and 5.4 assists last year.
“I am very optimistic about the upcoming season,” Mills said. “We bring Carla back for one last year and I feel she is going to accomplish tremendous things. In my opinion, she is the best player in the league.” The coach continued, “The big thing with Carla is to make sure she stays healthy. To her credit, she has worked tremendously hard in the offseason in the weight room, yet improved her quickness. Her strong suit, shooting, has gotten better. The biggest attribute we need out of her is senior leadership. We are a young team and she is one of only two seniors on the club. She must pick up even more of the leadership roles.”
To continue to contend for a title, however, the veteran coach knows that other members of the team will have to step up and make major contributions. “A lot of our success is going to depend on how the other players handle being in the spotlight,” the Eagle mentor stated. “I really like this bunch and have a good feeling being around them. They quickly learned to get along and really like each other. That is a huge part of building team chemistry.”
Booth is not the only one of the Eagles the coach has high expectations for as Mills is looking for continuous growth and progress out of Megan Jones (junior from Paintsville, Kentucky) and Amber Shepherd (sophomore from Hueysville, Kentucky). Both guards were key contributors last season and they will be counted on to produce timely baskets and assists in crucial situations.
Shepherd and Jones averaged 7.4 and 3.8 points per game respectively, but those numbers should improve this season.
One to definitely keep an eye on is rugged Morgan Chestnut. Chestnut spent virtually all of last season recuperating from a major injury and only played spot minutes. Mills believes that the team’s success will hinge significantly on the sophomore center from Manchester, Kentucky. Chestnut has “the skills, the athletic ability and the physical strength to dominate this league” according to her coach.
Tailor Morgan (sophomore guard from Granger, Tennessee) will return at full strength. Despite being plagued by a knee issue her freshman year, Morgan battled through it. She was reduced to a marginal role because of the injury but Mills says she will have a bigger impact on the game this season. The guard is renowned for her petite, yet stocky stature and immense speed: two qualities that can cause headaches for bigger and less agile guards on both ends of the court.
Carla McDaniel is the other senior on the Alice Lloyd roster. The senior forward from Sneedville, Tennessee took a sabbatical last season but was an underrated player for the Lady Eagles two years ago when ALC was one bucket away from reaching the KIAC title game.
“McDaniel rebounds the basketball really well and she can consistently hit shots around the basket,” her coach said.
Serena Nickell (junior forward from Tazewell, Tennessee), provides additional muscle and fight inside and has continued to improve each year. She is expected to make a solid contribution.
Emily Clonce (sophomore guard from London, Kentucky) appeared in 22 games as a freshman and has demonstrated potential to contribute more this year.
Noelle Banks (junior forward from Hindman, Kentucky) has been working hard and is a strong player on the inside.
As for the new players in the program, Mills is excited to see what they will bring to the table.
“I really like the new players that we have with the team. Bailey O’Bryan (freshman guard from Richmond, Kentucky) played for Madison Central high school in the eleventh region. In my opinion, it’s one of the toughest regions in this state. She went to two state tournaments and was the point guard on those teams. She is a very good floor leader and handles the ball extremely well; she pushes the ball in transition. Also, she is excellent passing the ball and is getting more comfortable shooting the ball on the perimeter. I think she can be a good defender as her career unfolds here.”
“Madison Reed (freshman guard from Salyersville, Kentucky) is a tremendous shooter of the basketball. The thing I love most about her is that she has a nose for the ball. When she or someone else shoots it, she knows where it is going to go and she can come up with it. That is a rare trait to have. I look for big things out of her as well.”
“Sara Robinson (freshman forward from Manchester, Kentucky) is long and athletic and is a great rebounder. She has a good mid-range game. She is a very active person and is always around the ball.
“Hayley Short (freshman guard from Hindman, Kentucky) is a quick, savvy guard that is a good shooter of the ball. She is very sound defensively and I feel she will improve as the year goes on.”
“Brook Martin (freshman guard from Hueysville,, Kentucky) is very solid putting it on the floor but we expect her to play a bigger role on the defensive end at this point of her career.”
In terms of personnel, the team is a little smaller but much quicker than a year ago. Expect the Lady Eagles to press and trap teams more often this year on the defensive end. Offensively, ALC led the country in three-point field goal percentage at approximately 37 percent. The Eagles mentor believes that number can be even better this season.
There is no doubting the impact that Coach Mills has had since he became ALC’s head coach. He has done an astounding job of getting the program to prominence and sustaining that high level of excellence.
“Coach Mills is a class act; what you see is what you get,” veteran guard Booth says. “He is a role model to us and he is always looking after us. He hasn’t had a losing record since he’s been here but we want to be that team that can get over the hump. We have been good but we want to take that next step. We want to do something that hasn’t been done here before and that is to win the conference title.”