JACKSONVILLE — It’s never too early to begin preparation for next season, and three local teams took another step in that direction Friday.
Piedmont, Jacksonville and Woodland each had girls teams participate in Rick Pietri’s JSU Gamecock Team Play Date, and although they each have different goals for summer, they all are shooting to get better.
“(Play dates) are very important because they show you what you need to work on and what you need to change for the upcoming season,” Piedmont head coach Terrace Ridley said. “It also gives the girls a chance to see who are possibilities for upcoming competition.
“Our competition at Albertville (earlier this week) was very, very strong. We played 6A and 7A schools, which was very good for us because it gave the girls, like my post players, opportunities to make some of the moves that they’re not going to make in area competition.”
For Ridley, her main goal is to get the team more accustomed to her style of coaching as she enters her second year.
“Doing what I did last year, it made me realize that I could do something different to get them where I want to get them to,” Ridley said. “Last year we were starting to peak at the end of the season because the players were adjusting to the change. Being able to work this summer and do some different things, we were able to continue the change.”
While all except two of Piedmont’s players will continue conditioning for volleyball season, at Jacksonville, head coach Ryan Chambless’ team is mostly all basketball all the time.
“We do summer workouts, and that’s every athlete in any sport, but the good thing about these girls is they like to play on their own. I don’t have to beg them to do that,” he said. “They’re always asking for a ball so they can play. That’s what makes coaching fun is when you’ve got players that want to do it on their own.”
Jacksonville rising senior Destiny Easley said the team is trying to get back to the same level of basketball it played when the Golden Eagles won the Class 4A state championship in 2012. Chambless said the biggest thing they can work on this summer is the details of the game.
“Winning is all about the small things that make you better individually and as a team,” he said. “That’s what I told them in the spring that we would focus on in the summer. There’s always room for improvement, and I think the girls are working hard this summer.”
Chambless said he isn’t just looking for the starters to improve, but the entire team. He referenced the San Antonio Spurs’ bench players’ contributions in the NBA Finals, which the Spurs won over the Miami Heat in five games.
Since winning the state championship in 2012, Jacksonville has missed the playoffs and also lost in the 4A Northeast Regional final. Chambless said that’s all the motivation the Golden Eagles need to work harder.
“I’ll tell you this, they’re tired of finishing second and we’re tired of being runner-up,” Chambless said. “That’s kind of the feel I get from the girls. We’re tired of being runner-up and we’re not happy with just getting into the playoffs. They want more and that’s a good thing.”
While Jacksonville is trying to get back to a championship-winning level, Woodland is fresh off back-to-back Class 2A state championships. However, the Bobcats have only one returning starter from last year, Adre Bowen.
The Bobcats are also without a head coach after Larry Strain resigned following the state championship and then later moved to White Plains to coach the football team.
Josh Sutton said he’s agreed to coach Woodland for the summer and take the team to camps, but “as far as what’s going to happen this winter, I don’t know.”
With the Bobcats having only a few players returning that have played even sparingly, Sutton said Woodland’s biggest goal this summer is to find and gain experience.
“The big thing with these ladies is they’ve been around the program, but they haven’t have had much playing time,” he said. “They’re kind of being thrown in the fire and it’s important for them to get experience so when the season does start whoever is the coach will already have girls with experience.
“This is our third week of practice, and from when we started to right now, they’ve come a long way.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.