NEW ALBANY — Despite the fact that New Albany is coming off its lowest win total in more than a decade, the Bulldogs enter this season with high hopes.
“I expect us to do a lot better than a .500 season,” junior forward Layne Burke said. “The past two years haven’t been very good seasons for us. But with this group I think we all play together and we all know each other’s strengths, and weaknesses, because we’ve played together for a long time, in middle school and stuff. I think our team chemistry is good, so even if we’re playing harder teams, we work together. There might be a couple upsets in our future.”
New Albany went 6-18 last season, which ended with a 49-48 loss to Jennings County in the sectional semifinals. Bulldogs coach Tammy Geron has already noticed her team making a U-turn.
“I really have seen a turnaround in our culture and our work ethic,” she said after practice Wednesday. “This group’s really been, surprisingly, a breath of fresh air with the fact that they just come in here every day and they want to get better. They work hard and they’re giving us their best every day. As a coach you really just can’t ask for a whole lot more than that.”
“I think we’ve got four upperclassmen that just really set the tone each and every day,” Geron said of Burke, fellow junior Delani Ewing and seniors Mya Jackson and Naria Reed. “They’re four of our hardest workers. You look at our roster and we’re very young. We’ve only got 16 kids total and 12 of those kids are freshmen and sophomores, but they’re great kids and they work hard and they’re getting better and better each and every day. I think in time we’re really going to see this group mature and be a very good basketball team on the floor.”
Jackson, Burke and Taylor Treat are returning starters for the Bulldogs, who open their season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Evansville Bosse.
Jackson, a hard-working 5-foot-6 forward, helps set the standard for the team.
“I’m just so proud of how far she’s come since she was a freshman with us, both on and off the floor — she's just really matured,” Geron said. “She’s setting the tone and being a great leader for our younger kids. We’ll be looking for her to do us some favors on the defensive end of the floor and, of course, she’s always pulling down rebounds. … Mya’s just a beast on the boards.”
Burke is a versatile 5-11 forward.
“Layne is kind of an under-the-radar kind of kid, I feel like, because she’s not real boisterous and doesn’t really stand out until the end of the game and she’s got stats all over the board — from rebounding to deflections to steals to points, she does it all,” Geron said. “She really and truly can play any spot on the floor that we need her to. Last year I thought she came on really strong at the end of the season, especially defensively. We really had her defend big kids on the other team and she did a great job at it.”
Treat, a 5-foot-5 sophomore point guard, became a starter in the latter part of last season. She’ll run the offense and will also “be our defensive motor as well,” according to Geron.
The biggest addition, both figuratively and literally, is 6-2 senior forward Naria Reed, a transfer from Louisville Ballard. She averaged 7.4 points and four rebounds per game last season for the Bruins.
“We’re pretty small across the board, so what a big help she’s been,” Geron said. “She's a great kid and has a great attitude. She’s getting better and better every day and we're getting her used to our system and what we do. The kids are getting acclimated to having that big body back on the floor, because we really didn’t have it last year. So being able to have that big body back in our system, and run some things with her, is going to be nice. It’s been a very seamless transition bringing her in. She’s welcomed us and we’ve welcomed her, it feels like she’s been with us forever.”
Also back is 5-8 sophomore guard Maleea Roland, a part-time starter last season.
“She came off the bench and gave us a big spark in many, many games last season,” Geron said. “We expect more out of her as a sophomore and being a year older. I look to her for some scoring, as well as some help with handling the basketball.”
Geron also expects 5-6 junior guard Delani Ewing to be a key contributor.
“Delani Ewing’s going to have a breakout year,” Geron said. “She’s really worked hard and gotten better.”
The roster also includes sophomores Anasha Crowdus and Shalandria White as well as a pair of freshmen — 5-9 forward Journey Howard and 5-7 guard Alaina Walker — who could push for playing time as the Bulldogs try to capture their first sectional title since 2002.
“My expectations of this group have changed greatly as we’ve moved on and on," Geron said. "I tell them every day our expectation is always to go and win a sectional title first, and then you can move on from there. But that’s the first and foremost goal. Another goal is getting better each and every day and trying to make sure that we’re improving and encouraging each other through that process. I’ve got some high hopes for this group. I think come February we’re going to be right in the mix and right where we need to be as long as we continue down the path that we’ve started on."