This team will take a while to put all the pieces together.
With more than six newcomers on the roster, a bunch of new faces means an abundance of playing styles all coming together for the first time. This will only help the overall depth and raw talent of the team, but the culmination of talents will make for some growing pains in the first couple of games.
“I think very early rath- er than having maybe starters and subs, it’s going to be combina- tions that mesh well to- gether,” said head coach Joye Lee-McNelis. “We have some depth. It’s just young depth.”
There are only two in- coming freshmen and everyone else on the team has some sort of experience on the collegiate level. The value of experience on the roster is something that coach Lee-McNelis and her staff should hang their hat on. But it will be rough in the early going, so patience is key.
“We have to be very patient, and I’m not a very patient person,” Lee-McNelis said. “There’s a lot of highs and lows, and I think that’s where patience has to come in and be a factor.”
Senior Jerontay Clemons will have to set the tempo early in the season for the Lady Eagles. She is the lone senior, leaving her voice as the only one carrying much weight in the huddle.
“Who knows what we’re going to do, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Lee-McNelis said. “You’ve got to have some vocal leadership (to) help them through that.” In the exhibition game against West Alabama on Nov. 7, the Lady Eagles came away with various positive take- aways heading into their season opener against Alabama State.
Jayla King went 9-of- 11 from the field for 20 points in her 26 minutes of play. She even hit one field goal from three- point range, expanding her own offensive game at 5-feet, 9-inches. Other Lady Eagles on the roster share a similar skill set as King.
“They can play inside and they can play out- side,” Lee-McNelis said. “They can play three positions on our floor. There is a tremendous amount of versatility with that size that gives us an opportunity to be successful.”
Another highly-touted Lady Eagle coming in was Lashyra Cotton, who had a kind of coming-out party after last year only averaging 3.6 points and 1.4 rebounds. She fin- ished the exhibition with 11 points and five as- sists in her 21 minutes off the bench.
This team will have to play with the same tenacity and physicality as it did last year when they allowed 62.6 points per game. The Lady Eagles held West Alabama to only 18 points in the paint, while scoring 52 of their own inside which is a good start. It helps that eight of the 13 players on the roster stand above 5-feet, 8-inches or taller. That height advantage is something that the Lady Eagles will have to exploit against smaller opponents this season.
“There will definitely be some mismatches that we will have,” Lee- McNelis said. “I think that we will definitely take advantage.”
If the Lady Eagles continue their dominance in the paint, it will be because of their three-headed attack from King, freshman Caitlin Jenkins and 6-feet, 6-inch center Jessica Powers. All of those players will clog the paint and provide a resistance for opponents to come down the middle.
Caitlin Jenkins stands out in the post and should have the offense move through her while she is on the floor, even though she is only a freshman. She led Louisiana in points and rebounds as a senior at Huntington High School and hopes to carry over that dominance to the Southern Miss campus.
Lee-McNelis gave high praise to the fresh- men duo of Jenkins and Keri Jewett-Giles and both are likely to start this season.
“The potential level is unbelievable in both of those young ladies of becoming something very special here,” she said.
Overall, this team should not be similar to anything that we have seen before from a Lady Eagle squad. Lee-McNelis hopes to have this team push the tempo ev- ery time the ball comes out of the hoop, but with so many forwards and big guards, it will be hard to force this team up and down the floor on a weekly basis.
In the end, this should be a team similar to the end of last year—a methodical squad that goes through the paint for most of the generation of their points.
“We’re truly going to be a team,” Lee-McNelis said. “(There is a) tremendous amount of balance because of the ability of so many players can score.”
It may be ugly at times, but the talent this coaching staff has ac- crued could make this a dynamic team.