ELIZABETHTOWN — The Lady Eagles rarely ever seem to be rebuilding, and this season might be no different.
East Bladen finished the 2016-17 season with a 22-6 overall mark and took second place in the Four County Conference with a 12-2 record, the losses coming against conference champion Clinton, which went on to win a state title. The Lady Eagles advanced to the second round of the NCHSAA Class 2-A playoffs, where they were knocked out by Roanoke Rapids, 70-56.
From that team, only post player Emily Scott graduated, so East Bladen is returning plenty of experience as they compete in the new, 10-team Three Rivers Conference.
“We were rebuilding last year and had a couple of seniors join our team who helped out on the defensive end,” East Bladen coach Patty Evers said. “The team that returns this year was where our scoring came from. We are still fairly young with only two seniors in Shardajah Brown and Kaley Smith.”
But the Lady Eagles also have younger talent — some of which was on display last season in constant motion sophomore Patience Ward, tough under the boards junior Ashley Hardin and long-range shooting junior Ja’Tyra Moore Peterson.
“After a couple of scrimmages under our belt (and now two games), I feel really good where we are at,” Evers said. “It has been a process in which I am teaching more because of the lack of fundamentals and basketball terminology that they have not learned or acquired. They are a good group of girls and I think our chemistry is getting better every day.”
Fitting into that chemistry will be players like sophomore Lorna Mendell, junior Erika McKoy (a West Bladen transfer), freshman Katie Evans, sophomore Izzy Smith, junior Anna Kate White, sophomore Abbie Cross and junior Kabarah Moore.
“Lorna has emerged as a starter with a bigger role this year filling the void from last year’s leading rebounder,” Evers said. “This group has more speed than last year and Ja’Tyra, Patience and Erica have been working in the off-season, which has sharpened their basketball skills.”
Evers points to experience, athleticism and speed as the Lady Eagles’ main strengths, while things like learning the game and acquiring a basketball IQ are their weaknesses.
As far as the new conference, Evers and East Bladen will be competing against familiar foes from Robeson and Columbus counties, and she has high hopes for her Lady Eagles.
“Hopefully we will finish in the top ,” she said. “It’s always a goal to win the conference. Our program has only finished lower than second one time since the new school opened. Hopefully the tradition will continue.”
East Bladen, already sporting a 2-0 record after non-conference wins over South Brunswick and North Brunswick, will play again Monday when they travel to Leland for a 6 p.m. non-conference tilt at North Brunswick.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.