By Brian Paglia
During the most frustrating moments of the Lady Cardinals' Final Four loss to Fayette County last Wednesday, the physical signs of emotion during Jonesboro's valiant comeback often came from sophomore Kayla Dowdell.
When a referees' call or inopportune turnover exacerbated Jonesboro's dire circumstances, Dowdell crouched and slammed the court in a visceral response. When the Lady Cardinals trailed by 16 points at halftime, Dowdell, not Jonesboro's core of four seniors, asserted herself in the locker room.
Dowdell will be one of six returning players Jonesboro coach Jimmy Fields will count on next season to fulfill expectations now defined by the Lady Cardinals' most successful season in school history. They will fill the void left when Drameka Griggs, Joi Holyfield, Chanee Key and Sharmesia Smith graduate, who combined to score 34 of Jonesboro's 41points against Fayette County.
But to have experienced the magnitude of the Final Four, and come two points from the state championship game, could prove invaluable for the returning group.
"It helps them for next year," Fields said. "They know what it takes to get there. They know what we've got to do. If they want to get back, they know the things we need to work on, and they'll be hungry for it."
Jonesboro's most obvious task is adjusting to the loss of Griggs and Holyfield, two speedy guards that entered the discussion of the best backcourt tandem in the state. Their speed dictated the tempo of the game, for as long as they were forcing turnovers, few teams could match the pace of Jonesboro's transition offense.
Fields acknowledged next year's potential roster is not as fast, which might require less of the full-court press that became Jonesboro's hallmark this season.
"We're going to have to adjust a lot unless we get quicker," Fields said. "We're going to have to adjust because we were based on a lot of speed. We're going to have to adjust our philosophy on defense. We might not press so mhow we do this summer as far as looking at what kids are going to be stepping up."
The core of those returning includes Dowdell, Laquinta Gallashaw, Jasmine Manning, Kierya Dennis, Angenay Williams and Jennifer Evans.
Gallashaw's role on the team will change most drastically, Fields said. Fields counted on her defensive intensity to disrupt opponents' top scoring threat and invigorate her teammates' defensive effort. Fields hopes she can shoulder a greater load on offense next season, envisioning Gallashaw moving from small forward to point guard.
"Hopefully," Fields said, "she can give us a little more scoring to go along with her defense."
Dennis played sparingly in a back-up role at guard this season, but she should play a more prominent part for Jonesboro, though her style contrasts that of Griggs and Holyfield's. While Griggs and Holyfield thrived at driving to the basket, Dennis primarily strikes from outside.
"We're going to have to set a lot of screens to get her open," Fields said. "Her strength is not driving to the basket. Her strength is her outside shot."
Jonesboro's strengths next season are still a mystery just days after a heart-wrenching loss. Those will start to be identified when the school year ends, when a new complexion of players assembles for summer practices and camps and a new team begins to emerge.
"The next season started the night after we lost," Fields said. "We're getting ready. I'm excited about next season. The girls are pumped up about it. This summer, we're going to get in there and work hard and try to keep this thing going."uch. It all depends. It also depends on