Photo by Derrick Mahone / Riverdale coach Jacquesa Smith (left) is hoping that the right balance of seasoned veterans and talented freshman can help the Lady Raiders make a postseason run.
RIVERDALE — Riverdale coach Jacquesa Smith inherited an experienced ball club when she was named head coach at the beginning of the school year.
With four returning starters from last season’s 8-16 team, Smith wouldn’t be blamed for entering her first season with high expectations.
And then when two talented freshmen guards, Angel Cooper and Brianna Andrews showed up on the scene, it wouldn’t have been shocking to anyone if the Smith began to dream a little.
But perhaps the drawback of playing freshmen on any level of competitive sports is battling the seemingly unavoidable consistency factor.
And as talented as Riverdale’s youngest players may be, Smith said that talent alone does not win games.
Case in point: Riverdale’s 52-42 loss Tuesday against Griffin.
Smith said it was possible that her Lady Raiders may have had a talent edge on Griffin, but it was the Lady Bears work ethic that won the day.
“You’ve got to be consistent and ready to play every night,” Smith said.
Tuesday, Cooper and Andrews didn’t play much, but other freshmen Sharde Thompson and Taylor Prichan found valuable minutes on the floor. As did sophomore guard Phallon Morris. Morris saw extended minutes last season as a freshman as well.
Smith said Cooper, who had more extensive playing time at the beginning of the season, may be the most gifted of this year’s crop of freshmen. But she also said that part of the success needed for extended playing time is the ability to learn how to handle good fortune.
“Early on many of my freshman showed me some very good things,” Smith said. “They had some early success. But maybe too much. You have to stay humble. You have to stay on it and put it all together.”
To be sure, the Raiders (9-10) are much improved from last season, having already eclipsed the season’s win total. But Rivderdale has failed to string together more than two consecutive wins so far this season.
The good news, however, is that they’ve also managed to avoid long losing spurts in the process. Last season’s Raider team had two different four game losing streaks. This season, while Riverdale has had a three game skid, it followed it up by winning three of the next four games after it.
The Lady Raiders’ young group has helped push and compliment veterans like guard Erica Burnham and 6-foot-1 center Sequoia Nelson.
And as Smith leads her team into the brunt of the second half of the season, she said she will still look at progress before age in deciding who will play.
“I want to play the kids who are ready to play,” she said. “The ones who are good kids with good character. The ones that will say ‘Yes ma’am,’ and represent Lady Raiders basketball to the best of their ability.”
While Smith acknowledged that maturity plays a big part in young players’ readiness to play, she also knows that on the other side of that coin is still the pesky element of unpredictability that comes with extending unproven players quality playing time.
She said she’d like to think that maturity will set in over time -- even before this season is done.
“We’re still contenders in our region,” she said. “This could be our season, or then again, next year could be. One thing though, you have to be coachable. Will that happen? I don’t have a crystal ball.”