Building a program back up to respectability can have its ups and downs and last season was the latter for Lincoln Trail College's women's basketball team.
Following two seasons of double-digit wins that were preceded by just 10 total wins in head coach Scott Sparks' first two campaigns, the Lady Statesmen took a bit of a step back with an 8-17 final record.
However, there is plenty of optimism for the upcoming season, as a deep and talented roster has Sparks and his team excited about its prospects.
"I like where we're at," Sparks said. "We're still trying to get in shape and get our legs under us. We were doing a lot of teaching early on. Now we are working more on stamina. But, things are going good."
The Lady Statesmen are a much deeper team this year, with 17 players on the roster and feature a strong mix of youth, experience, athleticism, speed, size and shooting ability.
"We have some real good youth to go with some good experience," Sparks said. "I feel the freshmen are really going to help us. We will be much deeper and we are more athletic. We have some good shooters and are stronger at the guard position, so I feel like we won't have as much trouble scoring this year."
Leading the group of returning players are 5-5 guards Alexis McDowell (Prospect, Ky.), Jamesha Pritchard (St. Louis) and Bre Spalding (Bardstown, Ky.) and 5-9 guard/forward Kiana Wininger (French Lick, Ind.), while 5-11 forward Lauren Frederick (Vincennes) is recovering from an ACL injury and will sit out this season.
"Alexis is a returning starter and has really stepped up her leadership role and has been more vocal in practice," Sparks said. "Jamesha is a good competitor and brings us consistency at the point guard spot. She can handle the ball under pressure, is quick and athletic. Bre wants to compete and wants to win. She can shoot it and play both the two and three spots. Kiana was brought in as a point guard, but now is the best four I've ever had. She has grown and put on some muscle, can put it on the floor, score inside, shoot the three and is a good passer. She is going to be a tough mismatch for a lot of teams we play. Lauren is coming off an ACL injury and is out for the year, but if she decides to come back next year, we are getting a kid that is strong, physical, a 4.0 student and a team leader."
That core is joined by a deep and talented freshman class that Sparks can't wait to see take the court. Included in that group are 5-3 point guard Kaitlyn Howe (Rushville, Ind.), 5-6 point guard Mykiah Jones (Evansville, Ind.), 5-4 guard Callie Clay (Vienna), 5-7 guards Shamarrhea Young (Rockford), Grace Smith (Greencastle, Ind.) and Lauren Hipsher (Vincennes) and 5-8 guard Kaitlin Adams (South Holland, Ill.).
"Kaitlyn (Howe) is a lot like Alicia Wilson that was here a couple years ago, but a better shooter. She is strong, athletic and a really good point guard," Sparks said. "Mykiah is a really tough-nosed kid. She is a winner and comes from a really good high school program. She brings to the table a bigger point guard, which we needed. Callie is a pure shooter. She is really accurate from long distance and can be a zone buster for us. Shamarrhea is a really versatile wing/post that brings some toughness to our team. She can score inside, put the ball on the floor and is a good rebounder. Grace has a high motor, can shoot, put the ball on the floor and score inside. We are still trying to find the best role for her, but I believe she can challenge for a starting spot. Lauren has been a pleasant surprise. We knew we were getting a good, fundamentally-sound kid who was a hard worker, but didn't realize how competitive she is. She is fearless. She is a small-forward, but in that Charles Barkley mold - undersized but can get a lot done. The sky is the limit for Kaitlin (Adams). She is a really good shooter from anywhere on the court, but also has long arms and is turning into a lockdown defender."
Meanwhile, newcomers to the frontcourt include 5-11 forward Taylor Bradley (Fort Wayne, Ind.), 6-0 forward Madison Moore (Rossville, Ind.) and 6-5 center Biauca Mitchell (Gainesville, Fla.).
"Taylor is tough and plays bigger than she is. When she steps on the floor, she gets a lot done," Spars said. "Madison has some things you can't teach. She is like a sponge and has done a great job trying to do everything we've asked of her. It's been exciting seeing her improve and I believe she can provide us valuable minutes off the bench. With Biauca, we were worried there might be a bit of culture shock coming from Florida, but she loves it here. She has made some great friends on the team and is light years ahead of where she was when she got here. She's 6-5 with a 7-foot wingspan and came in as a project, but I feel like she could offer us some minutes and help us this year."
Rounding out the roster are a pair of locals in 5-3 guard Josie Goff (Robinson) and 5-5 guard Samara Stanley (Hutsonville).
"Josie has been one of our bigger surprises," Sparks said. "She has really gotten better and has been consistent. She is a good teammate and will give 100 percent effort. I couldn't be happier to have a hometown kid that can help us. Samara does a good job absorbing everything we are trying to teach. She can shoot it, is a great teammate and a great kid."
Overall, Sparks really likes the make-up of his team and believes they have all the tools to be successful.
"Across the board, we are a lot stronger," Sparks said. "We have a strong post game and are deeper at the guard spots. With our guards, we can press and try to score in transition, but we can also spread the floor with several kids that can shoot it. We are still trying to figure out who is taking the bulk of the minutes, but that is a good problem to have."
Even with all the talent he has at his disposal, Sparks knows it is ultimately up to the players to produce once they step on the court.
"We know we can score, but we have got to be a good defensive team like we were last year," Sparks said. "We are not real tall, so we have to be a good rebounding team. We believe we can stop teams, but we don't want to give them second chances. Even though we are deeper, we still need to do a better job staying out of foul trouble. That really hurt us last year. We want to keep our key kids on the floor and keep our opponent off the free throw line."
Winning is the end game and it is what every coach and team wants to do, but the timing of those wins is also important. Sparks doesn't just want to win games, he wants to make them count.
"You always want to win your league and be in the hunt at the end of the year," Sparks said. "When it comes to success in the postseason, you have to be good, but also lucky. We want to have a good finish in the league and try to be in that top four to position ourselves well in the (Region) tournament. Then, we will try to advance and see if we can get lucky."
2017-18 Lincoln Trail College Women's Basketball Roster
No. Name Yr. Ht. Hometown
3 Kaitlyn Howe Fr. 5-3 Rushville, Ind.
4 Samara Stanley Fr. 5-5 Hutsonville, Ill.
11 Alexis McDowell So. 5-5 Prospect, Ky.
12 Mykiah Jones Fr. 5-6 Evansville, Ind.
14 Jamesha Pritchard So. 5-5 St. Louis, Mo.
21 Callie Clay Fr. 5-4 Vienna, Ill.
22 Shamarrhea Young Fr. 5-7 Rockford, Ill.
23 Kiana Wininger So. 5-9 French Lick, Ind.
24 Bre Spalding So. 5-5 Bardstown, Ky.
25 Madison Moore Fr. 6-0 Rossville, Ind.
30 Josie Goff Fr. 5-3 Robinson, Ill.
31 Kaitlin Adams Fr. 5-8 South Holland, Ill.
32 Grace Smith Fr. 5-7 Greencastle, Ind.
33 Lauren Hipsher Fr. 5-7 Vincennes, Ind.
34 Taylor Bradley Fr. 5-11 Fort Wayne, Ind.
44 Lauren Frederick So. 6-11 Vincennes, Ind.
45 Biauca Mitchell Fr. 6-5 Gainesville, Fla.
Head coach: Scott Sparks
Assistant coach: Adam Rotar
2017-18 Lincoln Trail College Women's Basketball Schedule
Date Opponent Time
11-1 at Danville Area Community College 5:30 p.m.
11-4 at Sodexo Classic, Vincennes, vs. Indiana Tech noon
11-5 at Sodexo Classic, Vincennes, vs. Olive-Harvey noon