Things will look a little different for the Jefferson City Lady Jays when they open the season at 7:30 p.m. today on the road against the Eldon Lady Mustangs after the graduations of Hannah Linthacum and Emmarie Graham.
But different isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s going to be an absolute team effort, and I think the kids are excited about that,” Jefferson City coach Kay Foster said. “It’s a totally different shift than we’ve ever had to play before, but I think it’s a way that we can play and compete.”
The stylistic change will be a complete 180-degree turn from how the Lady Jays have played during the past few seasons. Jefferson City plans on using controlled chaos to its advantage, pressing on defense, playing fast-paced basketball and utilizing a rotation of 10-to-12 players.
“We have to kind of muck it up and make the teams we play uncomfortable,” Foster said. “… We are going to have to play like we are out of our minds, play hard and muck it up.
“Then when that fatigue sets in, we will get five other kids in there that can do the same thing.”
To run this new system effectively, the Lady Jays will have to rely on a deep rotation, and they feel they have it.
It will all start with Jefferson City’s four seniors -- Bri Avey, Reagan Nilges, Lyssa Sportsman and Izzy Schmidt.
“I’ve got four seniors that have a pivotal role in leadership,” Foster said. “Reagan is one of our better shooters, I was really pleased with how many shots she was able to get off (in the Jamboree).
“Bri is our floor general and can rebound and is one of the best defenders in the state. … Lyssa is going to have some really good games for us this year, and Izzy Schmidt just digs in and gets it done. She’s just a workhouse, she’s just that glue player.”
Patrolling the paint will be juniors Lyric Hearn and Aaleah Woodard.
Hearn played a key role on last year’s team, which finished 21-8 and reached the Class 5 quarterfinals, as a forward and Woodard working into the rotation a little slower coming off a long volleyball season that ended with the Lady Jays in the Final Four.
“Lyric is another one that is one of the better defenders in the state, and she just plays her tail off,” Foster said. “… Aaleah is coming over from volleyball, and she will be in the mix. When you come in later in the season, there’s an adjustment period and she’s going through that right now.”
Also in the junior class is Dejya Mays, who is expected to be a spark off the bench.
“Dejya Mays is one of the few players that come in the off the bench and totally change the game, I mean what a gift,” Foster said. “Most players can’t come in and make a total change in the game.”
Jefferson City will also lean on four sophomores to come off the bench: Alyssa Bilyeu, Callie Bilyeu, Jaela Nickerson and Mia McGraw.
“Some teams we play aren’t going to have the deep bench like we do,” Foster said. “… People are going to have to match how hard we are going to play, I mean that takes a lot of energy.”
The Lady Jays decided to keep their schedule mostly the same as the past few years.
Jefferson City will play in the Pepsi Cola Invitational at Troy-Buchanan from Nov. 28-Dec.2, the Kickapoo Tournament from Dec. 12-14, the Twelve Courts of Christmas Shootout against William Chrisman on Dec. 21, the Holiday Hoops Classic at Capital City from Dec. 27-29, the Union Tournament on Jan. 8-13, the Central Bank Shootout on Feb. 3 and have difficult non-conference matchups against Rolla, Ozark, Tipton and Lee’s Summit West.
“Our schedule is pretty similar to last year’s, we have one of the hardest schedules in the state,” Foster said. “… I believe in playing the best because you can’t get your program where you need to get it if you don’t.”
The Lady Jays were placed in Class 5 District 5 last Friday. Also in the district are Helias, Capital City, Rolla, Camdenton, Pacific, Union and Washington.
Jefferson City plans on using its difficult schedule to get a young team prepared to defend last year’s district title.
“I like to play that competitive schedule because my goal is how we are going to play for a district championship,” Foster said. “I think if we can get through not too beat up and playing the way we need to play, I think we have a shot to play for a district championship.”