Clayton State coach Dennis Cox says he is looking for his team to make some improvements on its halfcourt defense. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
MORROW — When you graduate three of your top starters, including an All-American guard, there is a chance your team could struggle.
But when you have an elite NCAA Division II program, those struggles will be kept to a minimum. Despite the loss of its top three players from last season’s conference championship and NCAA Elite Eight appearance, Clayton State is still being counted as a favorite to win the Peach Belt Conference.
Heading into today’s conference matchup against Young Harris, the Lakers are 8-3 overall and 3-1 in the league.
The Clayton State women’s team enters the game with an 8-3 overall record and a 3-1 mark in the Peach Belt. The Lakers are coming off a 74-63 loss to Flagler on Saturday. Young Harris comes in at 7-3 overall and 2-1 in the league. The Mountain Lions had a 71-55 win over Georgia Southwestern on Saturday.
The Lakers have been led so far this year by senior post player Shacamra Jackson who is averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game. She also ranks among the national leaders in blocks with 39. The Mountain Lions are led by forward Ladondra Johnson averaging 21 points and nine boards per contest.
Clayton State leads the all-time series 2-0 and defeated Young Harris 75-57 and 85-61 in last year’s two meetings.
“I think with it being early in the season, we were not clicking on all cylinders,” Clayton State coach Dennis Cox said. “Our practices have been tough. The area that I want to see more improvement is our halfcourt defense, and our press is a long way from where it needs to be. We have been a lot further along in the past years, but I realize we have a lot of new faces.”
Cox said he is trying to be patient with this group, which is a lot more inside oriented this season. Gone is conference player of the year and All-American Drameka Griggs. Also, post players Shannon Smith and Kayla Mobley have used up their eligibility.
In their place, senior Shacamra “Shay” Jackson has filled the void on both ends of the floor. The reigning conference defensive player of the year is averaging a team-leading 15.6 points and 7.7 rebounds to go with her 39 blocked shots.
“I’m doing whatever I can to help lead this team,” Jackson said.
But she is not alone.
Yishica Sims, a 5-foot-10 junior, has been a big asset from the perimeter and in the paint. The Jackson native and Broward College transfer is averaging 12.6 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Lakers.
She transferred to Clayton State last January and sat out the remainder of the season.
“She has been huge for us,” Cox said. “We are looking for her and Shay Jackson to lead us. We just have to get everybody else up to speed.”
Sims said she learned a lot after transferring to the team.
“I just have to step up and be a leader,” She said. “I’m trying to help in scoring, rebounding and assists. After watching last season, I kind of know the system pretty well now.”