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Lady Cougars ready for round ball

By By Matthew Nascone
The Escambia Academy Lady Cougars basketball team lost two starters to graduation last year, but Keri Payne said the team would be just fine.
"We are looking good in practice," Payne, the Lady Cougars' head coach, said. "We are faster than we were last year. And we have more than two shooters. But we are a young team and we had to move four players from the JV to make 11. But we have players on the squad who have been playing for a while."
Payne took control of the Lady Cougars towards the end of last season when then head coach Andy Gorum resigned. Payne said it is a much better feeling starting the year off as head coach.
"The team was not stable last year, so I had to go with the flow," Payne said. "But now that I got them from the beginning, they know what the ground rules are. You have to run extra if you are late for practice. They can have fun, but they know when it comes time, they have to pay attention. They have been doing that and they have respected me so far."
The Lady Cougars have more team speed than last year, and for that reason Payne has devised two separate lineups.
"I have a press team and an offensive team," she said. "Malori (McGhee) will be in there for when we want to press from the start and Alaina (Arnold) will go in with the offensive team. Malori is a real good press player and Alaina can shoot the ball well."
The core starters for EA will be senior shooting guard Clare Jones, sophomore center Jordan Jaye and sophomore point guard Kayleigh Miller. McGhee and Arnold, both juniors, junior Sara Beth Davis and sophomore Jennifer Morris will be used in certain situations.
Morris brings back memories of a certain graduated senior for Payne.
"Jennifer reminds me of Katie Smith because of how she hustles and is very aggressive," Payne said.
Smith was a leader for the Lady Cougars last year and Payne said Jones is adjusting to her role as the leader of the team quite nicely.
"Clare has calmed down and she is coaching more this year," she said. "She is hustling more because I told her if she wants to be a leader then the girls are going to look at her and she needs to hustle more and set the example."
Payne said leadership will also come from Jaye on the court and when Jones is on the bench.
"Jordan is doing real well in the post and she takes over the leadership role when Clare is not out there," Payne said.
The team is not short on leaders, but Payne said some of the freshmen will have to step up for the team to have success this year.
"My ninth graders will have to step up for us as relief people to go to when the starters are tired," Payne said. "They work really hard and I am proud of that."
The ninth graders on the team are Amber Huskey, Taylor Helton, Rachel Fuller and Kristen Matthews.
Payne said the team is looking good and she is looking forward to a good year, but it is all because of the attitude of the girls.
"They are working well together as a team this year and they are working on finding the open shot instead of taking a bad shot," Payne said. "It is a we team, not a me team and that is our motto this year."
The Lady Cougars open the season at home against Faith Academy beginning at 4 p.m. Tuesday with the JV girls' game.