Written by Chris Whitaker - Americus Times-Recorder
AMERICUS — It's been a while since Kelly Britsky had a whole new team on her hands, but that's just about the case this season.
Britsky enters her fifth season with the Lady Hurricanes having lost nine players off last year's team that went 10-14 overall and missing out on the postseason after forfeiting two conference wins.
Four graduated while five others didn't return, including center Cierra Duhart, mostly for academic reasons.
The Lady Hurricanes open the year Saturday with a 4 p.m. tip against Auburn-Montgomery at home. After scrimmages with Andrew and Tuskegee, Britsky will see how much more work the new players will have to grow.
"The crew we have in, we've replaced them and have done well for ourselves," said Britsky. "This group, I like them a lot on and off the court. They play well together, and they're starting to come together as a team. The biggest issue is when you have to relearn your team and how everybody fits together."
GSW was in the race for a postseason spot last season, but when the school forfeited two conference wins dealing with a NCAA violation dealing with now graduated Kanita Holloway, the Lady Hurricanes kind of fell to the wayside. They lost their last four games of the year, shooting less than 38 percent.
"That kind of put us in a struggle to figure some things out," said Britsky. "I think the mentality down the stretch hurt us more than giving up games. We played four good opponents. The last couple of years it has came down to the last week of the season, and we didn't take care of business."
GSW has three starters returning, all guards. Jessica Bivins (11.2 pts) was a threat from the perimeter, making 40 percent of her 3-point attempts and finishing fifth in the Peach Belt in 3s made (40). Terra Branch averaged 10.1 points a game, and Tania Walters was sixth in the conference with 2.5 steals.
All three are expected to start, but Walters is questionable for Saturday with an eye injury. Britsky said they can't afford having Bivins and Branch having off nights scoring-wise. She said both can also have a bigger impact on the offense.
The Lady Hurricanes was eighth in the conference last season, shooting 38.4 percent.
"J-B can create her on shots, and if she's open, she'll let it fly," said Britsky. "Terra is more of a spot shooter, but she's run the point some and is getting to the basket. They're not one-facet players. They both shoot well and can make some things happen."
Duhart left the biggest hole as her 9.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and two blocks are gone. She also shot better than 60 percent from the floor.
But with the addition of transfers Adrian Randall (Marshall), Briana Walker (NW Shoals CC) and Jessica Jones (Mars Hill), Britsky believes the post play will be stronger. Marshall is more of pure post player, Walker is more versatile, and Jones can go inside or out with her shot.
And they, along with returner Samantha Smith, can't hurt since GSW was 11th in the PBC in rebounding defense.
"We definitely have a lot of size in the post," said Britsky. "We probably have a couple more true post players that can play with their back to the basket. They'll fight in the paint. We've been a good rebounding team before when we led the conference, so we're going after that. We want to give a team one look at the goal and take it back the other way."
Freshmen guards Kelli Morrow and Lashe Kirkland will also be counted on to grow quickly and contribute.
GSW has two conference games before Christmas at Montevallo and at defending national champion Clayton State. It will finish the season with seven of its last 10 conference games at home.
Britsky said their success will all depend on how quickly the younger players can get experience.
"Our first group is right on level," she said. "We are overall a very inexperienced Peach Belt team. We have different types of playing experience, different types of freshmen. How far we go and how many games we win will really depend on how good our new players come over the year. Any stumbles in that depth, it puts pressure on a few kids, which in the Peach Belt doesn't go over fairly well."