Being a new coach is always a challenge, but when you don't have all your players at your disposal at the start of the season, it makes it even more difficult.
As head coach Scott Sparks enters his first season at the helm for the Lincoln Trail College Lady Statesmen, he only has 10 players on the roster and four of them are currently hurt.
"It's been challenging, but not necessarily from a coaching aspect," Sparks said. "Getting a late start like I did and with small numbers, plus with four kids hurt, it's hard to even practice because we can't even scrimmage. 75 percent of our practices are breaking down into chunks playing two-on-two or three-on-three."
Despite not having all his personnel at his disposal, Sparks is pleased with what he has seen from his team so far.
"We went to a jamboree Sunday and it was a good test for us," Sparks said. "We were just excited to get to scrimmage and we struggled in our first game, but that was mainly due to adrenaline. In our second game, we did a lot of good things. What I expected to see and what we showed were two different things. There were a lot of good surprises."
Even though he likes what he has seen, Sparks knows their is plenty more still to do.
"I feel real good about what I saw Sunday, but it is so hard to judge because I haven't seen enough yet," Sparks said. "We just have to get our group healthy and on the same page. Once we do, I think things will keep going up."
Among those on this year's roster include three returning sophomores - 5-6 guard Erica Phifer (Indianapolis, Ind.), 5-4 guard Gabrielle Duncan (Indianapolis, Ind.) and 5-9 forward Kelsie Coleman (Danville).
Two more sophomores 5-10 forward and Oblong graduate Kristin Henry and 5-11 forward Lara Benningfield (Sullivan, Ind.) have joined the team this season after previously playing at Olney Central College.
The two transfers also give a local flavor to the roster for the Lady Statesmen, which Sparks believes will be a positive.
"It's great for us to have some local flavor and I love having them," Sparks said. "They are both going to give us some quality minutes."
Rounding out the roster are a handful of freshmen, including 5-6 guard Danielle Nettleton (Mt. Carmel), 5-6 guard/forward Ted'ra Taborn (Vincennes, Ind.), 5-5 guard Kendra Wilson (Indianapolis, Ind.), 5-8 guard/forwards Andrea Rivera (Plainfield, Ind.) and Tiesha Hampton (Wauwatosa, Wis.).
When his team takes the court, Sparks says he wants them to play fast, but also wants them to play smart.
"Offensively, we want to play uptempo," Sparks said. "We have done a good job pushing the ball, but we need to learn when to put the brakes on and be aware of those situations when we need to execute our offense in the half-court. Defensively, we have been working hard on zone with our numbers, but I have been pleased with how we have played man. We are probably going to throw a combination out there and try to keep teams guessing. The main thing we want is to play solid defense and have good execution on offense."
It may still be early, especially since he doesn't have his full roster at his disposal yet, but Sparks has already seen some areas he is happy with and some others that need improvement.
"We are not too bad defensively and we have come a long way in executing our offense," Sparks said. "Some of our stuff is real complicated, but the girls are working real hard. For what we've been through, I'm real happy. But, we also have a lot of things to shore up. We still have to work on our continuity and we can always get better at executing the offense. The main thing we have to focus on is being patient and trust each other. But, that comes with time and the girls know that.
With any young team that also has a new coach, there is an adjustment period. Sparks knows their will be growing pains and struggles, which is why the emphasis is more on trying to continually get better.
"I told the girls no one expects us to win, with only three sophomores returning and eight new kids," Sparks said." But I also told them it's always good to be the underdog. My only expectations are for the kids not to miss class and make sure their grades are where they need to be and they get better every day."
Winning is the ultimate goal and that is something that has not come easy for the Lady Statesmen, who have posted just eight wins total over the last two seasons. But, Sparks believes if his players commit to putting in the necessary work, the results will come.
"I think if this team improves every day and we gel, we will be competitive," Sparks said. "We have the talent to compete and I think we can win some ball games."
Lincoln Trail opens the season at State Fair (Mo.) College Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 5:30 p.m. It is the first of three straight road games to start the season for the Lady Statesmen, who will also play at Parkland College Nov. 9 and Danville Area College Nov. 13. The first home game for the Lady Statesmen is Nov. 20 against Malcom X College at 5:30 p.m.
2012-13 Lincoln Trail College Women's Basketball Roster
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr. Hometown
3 Danielle Nettleton G 5-6 Fr. Mt. Carmel, Ill.
4 Tiesha Hampton G/F 5-8 Fr. Wauwatosa, Wis.
5 Erica Phifer G 5-6 So. Indianapolis, Ind.
11 Kristin Henry F 5-10 So. Oblong, Ill.
12 Andrea Rivera G/F 5-8 Fr. Plainfield, Ind.
15 Kelsie Coleman F 5-9 So. Danville, Ill.
20 Lara Benningfield F 5-11 So. Sullivan, Ind.
23 Kendra Wilson G 5-5 Fr. Indianapolis, Ind.
24 Gabrielle Duncan G 5-4 So. Indianapolis, Ind.
25 Ted'Ra Taborn G/F 5-6 Fr. Vincennes, Ind.
Head coach: Scott Sparks
Assistant coach: Azjah Bass
2012-13 Lincoln Trail College Women's Basketball Schedule