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 he’s used the hurdle as a motivator.
“I call them the ‘Crazy Eight,’” Williams said. “They are on their way to becoming the ‘Great Eight.’”
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 Tuesday’s pivotal home contest against the Lady Trojans of Bandys (17-0, 8-0).
Many players have learned to embrace the small numbers.
“Our AAU team had eight players on it,” said post player Kadesha Gibbs. “It’s not really a big adjustment, as far as getting to play more. With eight people, you just learn to trust each other. It’s easier for us to get to know each other and bond. It’s only just the eight of us.”
Williams said there are certain disadvantages that come with coaching such a small squad.
“We can’t scrimmage in practice,” he said. “A lot of times, the coaches and assistants act as players. Overall, we can’t ask for more from them. They are hard working. We’re very proud of them.”
Another disadvantage — foul trouble.
The Lady Red Devils have only encountered this issue once — 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.
“Coach tells us that the more aggressive team is the one that sets the tone for the whole game,” said guard Shynese Whitener. “Once someone gets their first or second foul, we have to step back a little bit and make the adjustment.”
It’s an issue that Williams tries not to focus on.
“My job is to coach them and keep them out of foul trouble,” Williams said. “We will run multiple defenses if we have to. We don’t have the luxury, like some teams do, of getting one or two players in foul trouble. We don’t have any replacements. I try not to instill that in them. Eighty percent of our practices are on defense. It’s going to happen sometimes, like the Hickory game. So far, we’ve been lucky that we haven’t been in foul trouble, aside from that one game.”
It’s not just the Newton-Conover girls varsity team that is dealing with the issue of numbers.
The Lady Red Devils’ junior varsity squad is also around the same size.
“We’re rebuilding,” Williams said. “We have quite a few players we thought would try out, but didn’t. In the beginning, everyone thought we’d finish fourth, fifth or lower in the conference. That’s why from the beginning of the season that we were the ‘Crazy Eight’ and we were going to do great things. That’s why our motto has been that. We’re working hard to become the ‘Great Eight.’ The numbers will be back up next year. The players that aren’t on the train now wish they were. I’m actually looking forward to that challenge.”
While there are struggles, there are also advantages.
“The good part about it is that they know they are going to play,” Williams said. “That 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. It’s 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.”
Whitener believes that the so-called numbers disadvantage is really a benefit for her team.
“It makes us want to work that much harder just because we only have each other,” she said. “People are counting us out just because our numbers.”
Losing 56-48 on the road to Bandys on Dec. 15, Gibbs has high expectations for the second go-around.
“It should be a better game because our freshmen really don’t know the story behind the Bandys-Newton-Conover rivalry,” she said. “After the first game, they got a feel for what it’s like and what they need to do during the game.”
Freshman Taylor Petty agrees.
“Losing just made me want to beat them way more, especially at home,” Petty said. “By the end of the game, I was ready to play them again.”
Whitener said her team will try to make an emphatic statement Tuesday, which will carry this “Crazy Eight” to greater things.
“We play them at home,” she said. “No one beats us on our court.”