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Numbers tell the story. None rings truer than the girls basketball team at Newton-Conover.
The squad features eight players, sometimes seven given injuries.
Ike Williams, first-year coach for the Lady Red Devils, said heâs used the hurdle as a motivator.
âI call them the âCrazy Eight,ââ Williams said. âThey are on their way to becoming the âGreat Eight.ââ
The encouragement by their new coach is working.
The Lady Red Devils (15-3, 7-1) are in second place in the Catawba Valley 2A heading into Tuesdayâs pivotal home contest against the Lady Trojans of Bandys (17-0, 8-0).
Many players have learned to embrace the small numbers.
âOur AAU team had eight players on it,â said post player Kadesha Gibbs. âItâs not really a big adjustment, as far as getting to play more. With eight people, you just learn to trust each other. Itâs easier for us to get to know each other and bond. Itâs only just the eight of us.â
Williams said there are certain disadvantages that come with coaching such a small squad.
âWe canât scrimmage in practice,â he said. âA lot of times, the coaches and assistants act as players. Overall, we canât ask for more from them. They are hard working. Weâre very proud of them.â
Another disadvantage â foul trouble.
The Lady Red Devils have only encountered this issue once â against Hickory in the finals of the Catawba Valley Classic.
During that game, three N-C players garnered at least three fouls, including Gibbs with four.
âCoach tells us that the more aggressive team is the one that sets the tone for the whole game,â said guard Shynese Whitener. âOnce someone gets their first or second foul, we have to step back a little bit and make the adjustment.â
Itâs an issue that Williams tries not to focus on.
âMy job is to coach them and keep them out of foul trouble,â Williams said. âWe will run multiple defenses if we have to. We donât have the luxury, like some teams do, of getting one or two players in foul trouble. We donât have any replacements. I try not to instill that in them. Eighty percent of our practices are on defense. Itâs going to happen sometimes, like the Hickory game. So far, weâve been lucky that we havenât been in foul trouble, aside from that one game.â
Itâs not just the Newton-Conover girls varsity team that is dealing with the issue of numbers.
The Lady Red Devilsâ junior varsity squad is also around the same size.
âWeâre rebuilding,â Williams said. âWe have quite a few players we thought would try out, but didnât. In the beginning, everyone thought weâd finish fourth, fifth or lower in the conference. Thatâs why from the beginning of the season that we were the âCrazy Eightâ and we were going to do great things. Thatâs why our motto has been that. Weâre working hard to become the âGreat Eight.â The numbers will be back up next year. The players that arenât on the train now wish they were. Iâm actually looking forward to that challenge.â
While there are struggles, there are also advantages.
âThe good part about it is that they know they are going to play,â Williams said. âThat motivates them more because teams that have 12-15 players and run out to a lead have their starters come out and they tend to reserve themselves. Our girls just go all out. Itâs hard to tone them down sometimes when we want to run some clock. When you tell them to shut it down, it is very difficult sometimes.â
Whitener believes that the so-called numbers disadvantage is really a benefit for her team.
âIt makes us want to work that much harder just because we only have each other,â she said. âPeople are counting us out just because our numbers.â
Losing 56-48 on the road to Bandys on Dec. 15, Gibbs has high expectations for the second go-around.
âIt should be a better game because our freshmen really donât know the story behind the Bandys-Newton-Conover rivalry,â she said. âAfter the first game, they got a feel for what itâs like and what they need to do during the game.â
Freshman Taylor Petty agrees.
âLosing just made me want to beat them way more, especially at home,â Petty said. âBy the end of the game, I was ready to play them again.â
Whitener said her team will try to make an emphatic statement Tuesday, which will carry this âCrazy Eightâ to greater things.
âWe play them at home,â she said. âNo one beats us on our court.âView more articles in: