Defense the focus for Thompson High girls basketball team

While depth won’t be an asset for the Thompson High girls’ basketball team this season, attitude will be a strength.

“We’re small and feisty,” said Thompson head coach JoVanka Ward.

The Warriors have 10 players on the roster and not much size. Kahyanne Bolton and Makayla Hawkins, the tallest player on the roster at 5-foot-10, are the team’s lone seniors.

“We’re not very deep from a numbers standpoint,” Ward said. “We’re going to be real strategic and I’m going to make sure that I do what I need to do to keep them in shape. It’s a long season, so it’s going to be real important that we do some things to make sure we get the rest we need. We have to kind of pick some spots where we’ll do some different things. From a numbers standpoint, we’re not there this year. From an experience standpoint, the young ladies that will play, have seen some action. I’m very confident and excited about this group.”

Thompson was 1-2 heading into Tuesday’s game against Muscle Shoals at the Lady Panthers Turkey shootout at Huntsville High. The Warriors win came against Pinson Valley in the season opener.

For Ward and her team, the goal is to progress in a positive direction throughout the season. The first step in doing that is performing on the defensive end of the floor.

“We got to be stingy on defense,” Ward said. “Our motto is to make sure we defend.”

Setting the defensive tone are Bolton and junior Niya Oden. Bolton, who suffered a knee injury last season, is a 5-foot-8 guard and Oden is a 5-foot-6 point guard.

“(Bolton) is an aggressive, in-your-face defender,” Ward said. That’s just how she plays. She’s like that on both sides of the ball. We look for her to set the tone. (Bolton) and Niya Oden will see the ball first, playing those guard positions. Those are the two that I have. I’ve put some expectations on them to set the tone for our defense. They have that responsibility. They know what they have to do to get everybody else rolling.”

On the other end of the floor, Ward will call on Hawkins, who also suffered a knee injury last season, to make things happen.

“She’s very hungry, simply because she got injured last year and didn’t play,” Ward said. “She plays very aggressive on both ends of the floor. She played well before I got here. She’s been in a lot of different situations before, so I do put a lot on her.”

However, Ward also stresses that any good offense begins with a good defense.

“I try not to put a lot of offensive pressure on my kids because I’m a defensive minded coach,” Ward said.

For Ward, it’s an advantage that the players in her program are comfortable with her style. Last season, her first at Thompson, was a learning process for everyone involved.

“I’m still very excited and comfortable with this group,” Ward said. “I told them the other day, ‘Hey, y’all came back. You knew what my expectations were and you came back anyway. So, let’s fight and play together and let’s try to be as one, because we’re going to need each other.’ I’ve been part of teams where we had eight players and that’s what we leaned on and we were very successful. My thing is trying to get them to focus on the right things, as opposed to what we don’t have. We’ve got some great kids.”

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