Lady Miners look to compete despite inexperience

The Bauxite Lady Miners’ basketball team tied for second place in the class 7-4A conference last season, but had a chance to go undefeated in conference play. The Lady Miners (24-6, 10-3 7-4A last year) lost to the team they tied for second with, Malvern, twice by two points, and lost to first-place Pulaski Academy by one. Bauxite then lost to Malvern by two in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
“We lost by two all three times we played them,” Bauxite Coach Josh Harrison said of Malvern. “It was one of those deals where we couldn’t get over that little hump. We went to regionals and played a good Dumas team.
“It was back and forth, back and forth, we had a three-point lead. They threw a put back, fade-away, falling out of bounds 3-pointer. Literally, if she would have shot it 100 times, she wouldn’t have made it again. They ended up beating us in overtime.”
Going into his sixth season with the Lady Miners, Harrison’s team lost six seniors, five who played on a consistent basis. Harrison has one senior this season and said that his younger players are going to be forced to play a lot of minutes.
“We had a great season,” Harrison said. “Had a great, great group of seniors. That’s the thing coming into this year is we’ve lost a lot of leadership. Talent-wise, we’re not going to fall off any. Experience and leadership is definitely going to be one of the things we have to work on this year. Get more experience by playing games and those other girls are going to have to start stepping up and be leaders.”
Bauxite lost its starting point guard and floor leader Sunny Smith. Harrison said Smith didn’t score a lot of points (she averaged 4.1 points, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game), but she was a great leader.
The Lady Miners also lost their third-leading scorer in Tristan Rogers. Rogers led the team in 3-pointers with 58 and she averaged 10.4 points per game. Also graduating last year and contributed were bench players Kelsey Chapman, Amanda Cordell and Shelby Wingate. “They did all the little things,” Harrison said about last year’s seniors. “They just found a knack to win.”
Though the Lady Miners lost a lot of experience, they do have their top two scorers and top three rebounders returning.
“We got our two leading scorers back in Mary Crow and Alaina Crouse, but there’s not a whole lot experience besides those two,” Harrison said. “Makayla Blanchett played some last year, but those three played more than anybody. The rest of them barely even played, might of got on here and there, but that’s it.
Crow (5’8”) averaged a team-high 17.0 points, 2.4 assists and 3.2 steals per game. Just a junior, Crow is being recruited by several schools.
“Mary already has an offer from [the University of Central Arkansas],” Harrison said. “She really likes UCA, she likes them a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her playing her ball there. She’s only a junior. South Alabama has been on her hard. They came and watched her practice [a month ago]. She got some letters from Army and a couple other smaller schools around Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri.
“Mary definitely has potential to play at the next level. She’s just a strong, tough, smart basketball player. The thing that’s starting to separate her a little bit more is she’s really starting to develop her outside shot. She’s always been a penetrator and likes to get around the basket, getting fouled. She likes to get around the rim, finishing around the rim. Now she’s starting to extend that. Teams just can’t sag off of her.”
Harrison said Crow’s 3-point shot really developed over the summer while she played AAU ball.
“She played with two or three different AAU teams,” he said. “So she plays all summer with other people. She’s a special player. She made all-state and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Super Sophomore team. She can play up there with the best of the best I believe.”
Crouse (5’9”), the team’s lone senior, averaged 11.2 points per game and led the team with 6.2 rebounds a game, and stole 1.4 balls per game. Blanchett (5’9”), a junior, averaged 4.2 points and 3.9 rebounds last year.
“Alaina’s a shooter,” Harrison said. “She shot 41 percent from the 3-point line last year. She was my post player in junior high. In senior high, we moved her to the four (power forward position) and she liked to start facing up.
“She’s got a beautiful jump shot, but I think the strength of her game is offensive rebounding. She hits the boards extremely hard. That’s one of the things that kind of sets her apart. When she’s going full bore in there, she’s tough because she can get to the rim. She jumps so quick.”
“Makayla Blanchett, who will probably be starting post as a junior, averaged about four [points] and four [rebounds] last year as a backup,” Harrison said. “She’s very athletic. She’s not very tall, but she’s strong and athletic. She can step out and shoot the three. I’d love to see her expand her role this year.”
Those three players have the most experience on the team, but Harrison said that he has inexperienced juniors and several sophomores that are going to play this year. One sophomore, 5-foot-10-inch Allison Tackett will probably start.
“She was my leading scorer in junior high last year,” he said about Tackett. “She’s got to where she can shoot it. She’s probably going to play on the wing a little bit. We moved outside on the perimeter this summer. She had a really good summer playing AAU ball.”
Harrison said that 5-foot-11-inch junior Morgan Case will help in post play and junior Sarah McPherson will play out on the wing.
“They’re both juniors and defined their bodies more this summer,” he said. “They got quicker, stronger, they’re skills have gotten a lot better, and they have a lot more confidence.”
What Harrison thought was going to be a liability this season, especially after losing the Lady Miners’ leading 3-point shooter Rogers, may be a strength again this year.
“I was afraid after losing Tristan that [the perimeter] game might fall off a little bit this year,” he said. “But the way Mary has increased her outside shot, Allison Tackett has really worked on her perimeter game and (sophomore) Amy Etheridge can really shoot it from the outside, I really think that can be a strength of our team. We do that and we open up driving lanes.”
Though Bauxite finished in second place in conference last year, it will not be easy goings for the Lady Miners this year. Not only are they less experienced, but their schedule did not get any easier either.
“Our schedule is much tougher than it was last year,” Harrison said. “I believe our conference is a little better than it was last year. Of course Maumelle (previously Oak Grove) opening. I’ve talked to their coach. They had five transfers from other schools that were potential starters. A couple girls from [Central Arkansas Christian], a girl from Dumas, a couple girls from Little Rock School District moved over there. They were going to have all five back anyway.
“PA went a couple rounds deep in the state tournament and they have all five starters back. They have a new coach. They were good in junior high. I think they will be the cream of our conference. I think Nashville, Maumelle, Malvern, they’re like us – they lost some, but they’ve got a really good junior high group coming in. It’s going to be a competitive conference.”
With the tougher schedule, though, Harrison has backup in assistant coach Brandi Davis, a former rival Glen Rose Beaver.
“She’s really done a great job with the girls,” Harrison said of Davis. “She’s helped me a lot. This will be her second year. She’s going to take over my junior high this year. I know the girls develop because of her.”
The Lady Miners have improved in wins every season since Harrison’s arrival five years ago. Bauxite went from nine wins, to 16, 18, 21 and 24 wins last season and have made the regional tournament four years running.
“We’re not the team you want to schedule anymore just to try and get a win,” he said. “People try to stay away from us now because we get after it. That’s one thing about these girls is they play extremely hard, they work extremely hard every day, and they expect to be competitive and they expect to be successful.
“The kids we didn’t have to depend on a whole lot last year, they’re going to be depended on this year,” Harrison continued. “Early in the year, there are going to be times when we have some bumps in the road, but by the time we get into the thick of conference, we’ll be playing well.
“We’re very athletic. We have a lot of athleticism and we have the potential to be very deep. We have a lot of good 10th-graders, but they have to believe they can play out there with them. These 10th-graders are way more athletic than my seniors were. The seniors just had a knack to win games. They understood what it took to win. These guys have still got to learn that.”