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Experience, yet scoring concern, for Bearden girls hoopspreview

Fresh off one of the greatest seasons in Bearden Lady Bulldogs hoops history, head coach Nathan Hodges has a solid nucleus returning for 2009-10.

Offensive firepower lost to graduation, however, is a concern.

“We have four seniors and two juniors who got a lot of good experience last year going through our post-season run,” Hodges said. “We do have a veteran group ... and toughness ... when we get into tough spots, when we're behind, they know we can come back.”

Three returning starters who were All-Region 2-AAA — senior guard Taylor Cravanas, senior 6-foot-2 post Ellen Smith and sophomore point guard Jai-Jai McLaughlin — join part-time starter Shayla McDaniel, a senior forward, from last season's District 4-AAA and Region 2-AAA tourney champs only a whisker away from the state tournament.

“We're looking for some leadership from those players,” Hodges said. “They all have high character, are really good kids.”

One key to success? “Trying to find our offensive identity,” Hodges said. “That's kind of our weakness right now. ... They're almost too unselfish, where everybody on the floor is looking for someone else to make the play.” A proven perimeter shooter must emerge.

“I think Taylor's a good candidate for that,” the coach said. “She can be the glue that holds everything together. She does everything well, real polished.”

In post-season crunch-time last year, Cravanas “started attacking the basket more, able to finish plays,” Hodges said. “Does a real nice job rebounding the ball.”

As “shut-down” defensive girl on opposing posts, Smith also “is going to have to be relied upon to finish [scoring] plays,” Hodges said. “Last year she was just a really solid rebounder — many games she out-rebounded Mary [Hirst].”

Smith said “it's going to be a task” trying to replace All-state post Hirst. “But that's not really my goal this year.”

McLaughlin is expected to “take a big jump ... we expect big things out of her,” Hodges said.

McDaniel “is just real powerful and a great defender,” Hodges said. “She can guard almost anyone on the floor. And she’s working hard on her offense,” adding the 5-foot-9 senior is second post-up option behind Smith. McDaniel said she’s working on ballhanding “to help out the team.”

Junior guard Mary-Mc Alexander and junior guard/forward Mallory Uekman both are seeking to fill the open fifth starter position. Also in the mix is Leslie Sayers, a senior guard.

Another weakness, Hodges said, “Is we don't have quite the depth we had last year.”

Sophomores Carolyn Hill, Olivia Taylor and Sara Burklin hope to contribute.


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