Going into her third season as the coach of the Lady Tigers, Hatley’s Ginger McAlester had one big goal during summer basketball this season: building a trusting relationship.
“These girls I have now, it’s been my third year with them. Some of the players I had the two years before had four or five coaches, and it’s hard to instill trust in ones that you only coach for a year or two,” McAlester said. “Now we’re building a trusting relationship with me and with them too. That’s our big thing is that we have to trust each other. You have to trust what I say and also trust your teammates and work together.”
After losing just one starter from last season’s team that made a playoff appearance, the Lady Tigers are working on fine-tuning some of the details. They played a busy summer schedule, which included games at county rivals Amory and Smithville.
“It’s been a summer of learning. We have made a lot of mistakes, and we’re learning a lot from the younger girls to see who can play and who can’t,” McAlester said. “We have a lot coming back, and our seniors have shown a lot of hard work and heart. That’s all I ask of them. They have that leader personality, and I’m hoping that they take charge and help run this team. Every game we have played this summer, they have worked from the time they have stepped on that floor until the time they walked out.”
Hatley’s four incoming seniors are Emilee Slade, Sydney Elkin, Tara Robertson and Lauren Mitchell. Slade is a three-year starter and is the Lady Tigers’ leading returning scorer.
“Emilee is going to be a big asset for us. She’s my point scorer. She plays post, she plays the point, she plays guard, wherever I need her, she can play,” McAlester said. “She does a good job in and out as a leader. Sydney has done really well this summer and is a completely different kid than last year, and I hope that continues because she can be a big asset for us. Tara is going to give you 110 percent all the time. She isn’t a big scorer but she makes things happen. She drives to the goal, and we have to get those free throws to fall for her. Lauren (Mitchell) sat out last year and has decided she wants to play again this year, and she was a pretty good ballplayer her 10th-grade year. I expect good things from her too because she loves the game.”
McAlester expects big contributions from her underclassmen as well and has worked on continuing to develop them throughout the summer. Sophomores Laney Howell and Emma Rose Thompson both started late in the season.
“I have six 10th-graders, and we missed some games with some of them with Laney (Howell) at church camp and Emma Rose (Thompson) being hurt,” McAlester said. “Brooklyn (Owen) is one who has gotten in there and played ball, and I’m proud of that. Kenlee Wilkinson is a freshman, still just 13 years old, and she’s made some mistakes but does a lot of good things too.”
McAlester has also preached being aggressive throughout the summer.
“I think we have been more aggressive at times this summer. I want us to want it and not give up at the end,” she said. “We lost so many games at the end that we shouldn’t have lost. I want them to play from the time you step on the court until you step off it. I try to tell them that every game when your feet hit the floor, you are the best.”
McAlester said her players set a goal for winning 20 games next season. The Lady Tigers keep Aberdeen, Choctaw County and Houston as division opponents, but lose Nettleton and South Pontotoc, while gaining Noxubee County.
“I told them I wanted us to win 16 games, and they decided we were going to win 20. That’s their goal for this coming year,” McAlester said. “I’m glad that they set their standards high. We have some good competition coming up next season and the chance to play really good ball.”