On its surface, the Great Crossing girls' basketball roster looks like one you might expect from an expansion team.
The Lady Warhawks flaunt no seniors and only three juniors, two who have started games only at the junior varsity level. Their classmate is a varsity basketball rookie.
When you watch GCHS run, shoot and play pressure defense for a minute or two, suddenly there's a more battle-tested look. Then it becomes easier to understand why coach Glenn Wilson thinks an attitude that focuses too far into the distant future is for the birds.
“We've got a challenging schedule, but I want to go out there and compete,” Wilson said. “If we do the little things, play hard, play smart and take care of the ball, with the way we shoot anything can happen. Why wait until next year? We want to get it done now, you know?”
Great Crossing gets out of the starting gate with some impressive puzzle pieces on team one,
Braylee McMath, a junior dynamo who still checks in not much above five feet tall, brings three full years of experience as the backup point guard a Scott County.
She has hit last-minute shots in important games, played in two KHSAA Sweet 16 tournaments, and long ago established her reputation as a fearless competitor.
Being the default leader on perhaps the youngest team in the state doesn't intimidate her on any level.
“We can't wait to represent this school and all of our fan base. It's going to be exciting,” McMath said. “It's a new program, a fresh start. Kind of the same foundations, but we have some new stuff. I know I'm really excited and I know my teammates, they're pretty excited, too. We just can't wait to get the ball rolling.”
Three other key players made the move from SCHS.
Hailey Ward, also a junior, sank seven 3-pointers in a game against Sayre last season. Timothi Williams was one of the first guards off SC’s bench as a freshman after starting as an eighth-grader at Frederick Douglass.
Raegan Barrett, a freshman forward, will provide important height for the Lady Warhawks, who will probably face a deficit in that category against many teams.
The challenge of playing for her third team in as many seasons, including her second start-up school, doesn't worry Williams.
“You've just got to get used to it. As long as you're cool with your teammates and know that they'll have your back no matter what, you'll be fine,” Williams said. “I think we have very good team chemistry, even though we're young and in a new school, so we'll play well together.”
Leilani “Nani” Valencia, the other junior and one of the state's top softball players in her class, has picked up basketball for the first time since middle school.
Experienced or not, all the older players will play an important in building Wilson's brand.
“We're trying to fill some big shoes,” McMath said, “He wants us to take control of this team, take charge of it, let everyone know what they're doing, try to help everybody improve and be the coaches on the floor.”
“Braylee and Timmi, both of them played a lot of minutes for us at Scott County last year, so I look forward to them coming up,” Wilson said. “They've been experienced, and I've got other ones that are ready to step up.”
Another key acquisition is Rachel Smith, a sophomore guard who appeared in 15 games for Lexington Catholic last winter.
Emma Boehm brings versatility and may crack the starting lineup as a freshman, and teams will have to account for eighth-graders Ava Schureman and Olivia Tierney whenever and wherever they are on the floor.
“The younger kids like Ava and Olivia, man, they can step right in and just keep it rolling,” Wilson said.
Sophomore Leila Custard and freshman Kaylee Ray also are on Great Crossing's initial varsity roster.
When he surveys that list, Wilson sees no shortage of shooters. His main concern echoes what you'll hear from the coaches of even the most established programs at this time of year.
“We have to stop the ball. That's our biggest problem right now,” Wilson said, “Offensively we can score. I think we'll be fine. We have girls who can shoot the ball. Defensively is my only concern right now.
According to McMath, fans watching the Lady Warhawks for the first time will notice stylistic similarities to the proven program in the county.
That shouldn't be a surprise, since Wilson spent the previous 21 seasons as an assistant at Scott County, where taking a high volume of shots and transforming defense into offense has been down to a science in recent years.
“We're going to get up and down the court,” McMath said. “We're trying to elevate our defensive mindset to help us get the ball out in transition more and get some stops, because we're kind of at a disadvantage with our height. If we get some stops on the ball, that will make up for the rebounding and stuff.”
Playing close to 32 minutes after being a super-sub for several seasons could be an adjustment for McMath and other Lady Warhawks.
Wilson's preseason philosophy has reduced that risk, like it or not.
“I would have said it was (an adjustment) a couple months ago, but we've been running,” McMath said. “We're in pretty good shape. All that running has paid off, I know that.”
“Get up and down. Let's go,” Wilson added about his goals for the tempo. “There ain't a lot of setting up when you've got girls who can shoot the ball like that.
“I've got a great bunch of girls. Almost zero attitude problems. They come out to work every day. Our philosophy is we have to get something done every practice, and if we don't do that, we'll just run. We'll be the best conditioned team in the state. It's that mental part.”
Williams also believes Great Crossing is well equipped to play that style and run some opponents to exhaustion.
“It's run-and-gun, and that means defense is very important. Defense wins games, and as long as we play together, the team will be fine,” Williams said. “We have a lot of talent on our team. We just have to put all of our tools together. It just takes a little time.”
Time isn't the Lady Warhawks' best friend if you look at the early schedule.
They'll open at Walton-Verona, a 25-win team last season, on Wednesday, Dec. 4. The nest two will be at home against a perennial power from the 10th Region, George Rogers Clark, and one of the favorites in the 11th, Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Home-and-home series agaist 41st District power Franklin County and, yes, neighborhood rival SC are looming, as well.
“We haven't got a cupcake schedule. Franklin twice, Scott County twice, GRC, Lincoln County,” Wilson said. “And we're young, but they've been around me for a long time, ever since they were in seventh grade. They've all played middle school, freshman or JV ball for me. They know me. They know the system and what to expect. That makes it a lot easier.”
McMath was asked what she expects will be her team's identity in its inaugural journey.
“Probably our heart and our love for the game,” she said. “It's been a long two months. We're ready for the wait to be over. Seeing all the people in the stands (at Warhawk Madness earlier this month) was exciting. We can't wait to represent this school and all of our fan base. It's going to be exciting.”
Great Crossing reached the regional playoffs in volleyball and boys' and girls' soccer in year one. There's obviously a similar buzz around both the Warhawk basketball teams in a state where that sport's lore is more than a century old and such a strong part of the fabric.
“We have a standard to live up to, I guess,” Williams said. “Very high expectations.”
Are they ready?
“I know we're all really competitive,” McMath said. “Especially once we get this defense rolling. We're putting in a lot of defensive stuff. I think if we keep working on that, we'll be successful.”
GCHS girls’ basketball
Glenn Wilson (head coach)
unless otherwise noted)
4 at Walton-Verona 7:30 PM
7 George Rogers Clark 3:30 PM
12 P.L. Dunbar 7:30 PM
14 Covenant Chr., Ind. 8:00 PM
17 Franklin County 6:00 PM
20-22 Lex Cath tourney TBA
4 Iroquois 2:00 PM
7 Frankfort 6:00 PM
10 at West Jessamine 7:30 PM
11 at Woodford Co.7:30 PM
14 Western Hills 6:00 PM
17 at Franklin Co. 7:30 PM
18 at Bryan Station 7:30 PM
22 Simon Kenton 5:30 PM
24 at Scott County 5:30 PM
25 Lincoln County 12:30 PM
28 at Western Hills 7:30 PM
31 Madison Central 7:30 PM
1 Tates Creek 2:00 PM
3 Frederick Douglass 7:30 PM
8 Fern Creek 2:00 PM
11 at Frankfort 6:00 PM
14 Scott County 6:00 PM
17 at Rockcastle Co. 7:30 PM
18 at Lex. Catholic 6:00 PM
21 East Jessamine7:30 PM
District: 41. Region: 11.
Outlook: Great Crossing’s initial team is an athletic but relatively small group across the board that will look to run, shoot and play pressure defense, using that athleticism to its advantage. McMath, Ward, Williams and Smith all have some experience at the varsity level and give the Lady Warhawks a strong nucleus. Overall varsity experience is an area where GC won’t be able to match most opponents at first, with no seniors and only two juniors on the roster that have seen any prior high school playing time.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.