MACON – Two seasons ago the Eastern Brown girls’ basketball team made their first Final Four since 2002.
The Lady Warriors have several key players still on the team from that run to Columbus, and they’ll look to mix in some new pieces this season with the hopes of making a return trip next March.
“We’ve got out, got to see several good teams, got to play a lot of games against good competition. We’re getting better every day,” said Eastern coach Kevin Pickerill during Friday’s home shootout. “Right now is just trying to mix some kids in to make us better and that’s what summer’s for. We’re having a lot of fun and kids are getting a lot of experience.”
They bring back Alexa Pennington and Morgan Reynolds for their senior seasons. They’re the two remaining starters from the 2016-2017 team and will be looked at to pull from their experience in important games. They’ll be joined by fellow seniors Andrea Edmisten and Allison Malott, who also played with the Lady Warriors that season, and rising junior Camryn Pickerill, the first player off the bench that season and a starter from last year’s team.
Joining the Lady Warriors from Bethel-Tate for her senior season is Reagan Leonard. Her 11 points per game led, Bethel Tate, who finished with a 22-3 record last year.
“That’s definitely a key to us. That’s going to take us from good to great if we’re going to get there. Them three [Pennington, Reynolds and Pickerill] have had the experience in the big games – a lot of experience. The other two [Edmisten and Malott] played some too. And Reagan’s played in some big games at Bethel,” said Pickerill. “This is Alexa and Morgan’s team, so-to-speak, words unspoken, whatever. It’s kind of their team because they’ve played in those moments and helped lead us to where we got to. I’m looking for them to basically have the other troops rally around them.”
The summer will be spent trying to work those six together, along with other younger players making the move to high school or from junior varsity.
Eastern has made the trip to Ohio Dominican twice this summer. They’ve also played at Southeastern and Shawnee State. They held their own games on Friday against Milford, Alexander, North Adams and Goshen. The Lady Warriors went to Ironton Monday and Tuesday and finish with a camp at Northern Kentucky University.
“I always say in the summer that I want to keep it very simple and I want them to be players. I want them to go out and learn how to play the game and learn how to play with each other,” said Pickerill. “I don’t put in a lot of sets, don’t put in a lot of defenses – I mean, if I hollered most of them would know it – but with the incoming freshman coming up and the transfer kid coming in, we kept it very simple this summer. We’re getting better at those things we’ve done, but a lot of growing to do. I’m pretty happy with where we’re at.”
Two years ago the Lady Warriors slowed the ball way down and picked teams apart, especially in big games. That included three wins over Lynchburg-Clay, one of which sent them to the Final Four.
This year, Eastern could play faster and even have five guards on the floor at a time, considering Pennington’s ability to handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter.
“I think we’re going to speed it up a little bit more than we have in the past, and that could be interesting for the crowd,” said Pickerill. “I don’t know if I can always deal with the turnovers and the missed layups that we’re having right now, but the crowd will enjoy watching us play for sure.”
After falling in the district semifinals to finish at 20-5 last season and losing a senior class with five players that all contributed, a lull in success could be expected.
But with the players Pickerill has back and from what he’s seen this summer, it’s possible Eastern could make another run in the Southeast Division III when the postseason rolls around.
“I’m excited about this team. At the beginning of the summer I wasn’t sure, but the longer we play the more excited I’m getting. We’ve had a few big wins throughout the summer play – teams we probably shouldn’t be playing in the gym with and beat them,” said Pickerill. “That’s how you get better – playing teams that are better than you and continuing to grow.”