The past three seasons have been trying ones for the Georgia Northwestern Lady Bobcats basketball program.
Injuries and other issues have shrunk the size of the rosters from what they were at the beginning of the seasons. The 2014-2015 team in particular played virtually the second half of that season with just five players in uniform each game.
There have been a number of blowout losses to bigger, more experienced squads, and there have also been a number of narrow, heartbreaking losses, include a 47-45 defeat on the road at the hands of the Covenant College junior varsity team, an NCAA Division III opponent.
But through it all, the Lady Bobcats have persevered, all while keeping an eye out for the light at the end of the tunnel and an end to the streak.
And as the 2017-2018 season gets set to tip off in Florida on Nov. 3, head coach David Stephenson remains optimistic that the anticipated breakthrough win is on the horizon.
“I think this could be the year to break the streak,” he said. “I won’t pull a Joe Namath and guarantee it, but this is the most talented group I’ve had since I’ve been the (women’s) head coach.”
However, his enthusiasm for the Lady Bobcats’ talent is tempered by the fact that this will be one of the most experienced teams he’s coached at Georgia Northwestern and one of the smallest in terms of size. The Navy-and-Silver will begin the year with just one player over 6-foot tall and the rest at 5-foot-7 or below.
“Our lack of size does concern me,” Stephenson continued. “After (6-foot-3 center) Madison (Lewis), we’re small. We have a lot of players that I call ‘tweeners’ and sometimes that’s a detriment for teams.
“However for us, I think it will be pretty good for us. We can put up to four players on the floor that can all get to the basket. We have a lot of players that are close to the same height and they all play the same style of game. They can handle the ball and shoot it pretty well, so I’m pretty excited about this group. But we just don’t have a lot of experience after Katy (Phillips) and Madison.”
At the point guard spot, Phillips, a two-year returning player, is back to run the offense. Lightning-fast Jayla Stone will be getting a lot of playing time at the position and will be counted on for scoring, while Mia Clark can handle the ball at the point or step outside as the 2 spot.
Christina DeSalvo, Tori Harvey and Taylor Bethune are all slashers, who know how to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, although all three are capable of hitting from the perimeter. Tori Hall and Hannah Carr are two more hard workers in the same mold, who could see time at either guard position or even at small forward.
Lewis is back in the post and hoping regain the form she showed two seasons ago as a freshman. She had to miss last season while recovering from knee surgery.
Amber Weaver, who is also the women’s volleyball coach, will be back to serve on the bench as an assistant for the season straight season, while the new face on the staff is Steve Ryan. Ryan replaces Bud Todd, who will be working exclusively with the men’s team this season.
“If we stay healthy, I think you’ll see a different team in December than the one you’ll see in November,” Stephenson explained. “And as long as we don’t lose anyone, I think this a team that will just improve every month, get more continuity and get better together.
“Our thing is still trying to change the culture of women’s basketball, not just at our school, but in the whole area, especially northwest Georgia, and the way we’ll have to do that, individually and collectively, is one day at a time, one practice at a time. The good news is that we’ve got girls who are prepared to do everything they have to do to change the culture and win.
“The key is how fast we grow up on the floor and adjust to the game since we only have two that have played with us before, but they are really working hard. I’m hopeful that with the exception of Katy, who is in her third and final year, that everyone plans on coming back next year and they will look at this is a chance to use this year to build a foundation for next year.”