Coming into the 2022-23 girls basketball season, Cloverdale coach J.J. Wade knows his team may struggle early on, as was the case in the season opener on Nov. 1. as half of the players on the roster are freshmen.
In the season opener, the Clovers fell 45-19 to Riverton Park, but Wade is confident his team will be able to improve on last year's 8-16 record, which featured Cloverdale losing eight games by single digits.
"The seniors set the tone for the work ethic needed for us to continue to build a program and grow. Veronica Carter averaged a double-double at 13 points per game and 10 rebounds. She, along with teammate Audrie Fulkerson, were also named Academic All-State Honorable Mention, which showed their dedication to being a student first and athlete second," Wade told The Putnam County Post.
To prepare for the rigors of the season, Cloverdale took part in 24 games during the offseason at various camps and shootouts, and Wade said attendance was good.
"We knew we needed to do this as we have a 12 woman roster with six of them being freshmen. It was important to get them used to the speed and the physicality of a varsity game as opposed to middle school. They worked hard, we got better, but we have a long way to go to compete at the level we want to," said Wade, who is in his third season at the helm.
Cloverdale will lean heavily on senior guards Andrea Nees and Kiersten Wade, who can also play forward, and junior guard/forward Emily Mann, who all have two years of varsity basketball under their belts and understand the game, as well as practice and coaching expectations, according to Wade.
"We will lean on them to lead, teach, and mentor our younger student-athletes. Those three will also have to produce some scoring for us and set the tone for our effort in games and in practice. We believe in those three and their servant leadership. They understand what it means to be a part of a program and something bigger than themselves and have really done a great job of showing and teaching our younger group those principles," Wade said.
With the season already underway, Wade said Cloverdale is focusing on fundamentals, shooting and learning to play defense the way they want to.
"There probably will not be a day we won't do those things. Because we are so young and lack experience, we have to spend a lot more time teaching than the last few years. We are okay with that too, we are not playing the sectional today. We are taking things one step at a time and trying to concentrate on the things we can control. The biggest factor we can control is effort and they have really bought into that. We are trying to instill in them to play without fear, don't be afraid of mistakes. We purposely put them in situations in practice to make them get out of their comfort zones so they grow," Wade said.
For Wade, mistakes will be part of the game, as long as the team grows and plays fearlessly.
"We tell them effort to do it the right way, even if it is uncomfortable, is all we want to see. We will grow with mistakes made with full speed effort, but we will not grow if we do things the same way we always have because it is comfortable. We want that same mentality in games, home or away, regardless of score. Play fearlessly, move on after mistakes, there will be mistakes, just play the next play and don't let a mistake, score or anything else dictate our effort. Most of our drills are new to them, it may not look exactly like the coaching staff wants to see it right now, but it is not from lack of effort. We will get there. I know our coaching staff and the team believes that. We will install X and O type stuff all year and only try to give them so much at a time," Wade said.
As a result of the youth and inexperience, Wade admits there may be less game planning for teams this season than in the past, and more of a dedicated effort on the Clovers to be successful, but he admits that could change depending on how the season progresses.
"It is a journey and one they have committed to and are ready for. We are more concerned with learning and growing right now than anything. Regardless of what that opponent/challenge will be when we get there we expect to see a team on the floor that understands the game better, can play faster with less mistakes and continue to play with the effort we expect throughout the season. I would guess all season spectators may see moments of "young basketball," but I don't expect anyone to see moments with a lack of effort," Wade admitted.