By MacKenzie Bates - Sports Editor
Nov. 27, 2013 — Hager Easterling would not stop talking about summer.
He was not talking about his vacation or the down time he spent at home working on projects. Instead, it was about his East Carter Lady Raiders who rolled up their sleeves and went to work on preparing for the upcoming season.
“These girls can be a special group,” Easterling said. “If they have the same attitudes and togetherness like they did this summer and they pick it up where they left off and build on it, we can be the best team we can be.”
During summer ball, East Carter played teams like Elizabethtown, Assumption, Butler and many others and they held their own. While they came up short against a few, Easterling saw a change.
“Something just clicked,” Easterling said. “They were sustaining energy and confidence all the time. That’s what you want to see.”
Whether it was the team’s lone senior Bryana Greenhill leading the Lady Raiders to victory or juniors Megan Stickler and Kelsey Stumbo getting physical down on the post or Haley Hall scoring in bunches, it is no reason why Easterling and his team enjoyed the summer season.
“It’s my job to lead this team being a senior,” Greenhill said. “But we have a lot of leadership. Kristen (Mayo) can lead us on the floor but getting us excited I feel like it’s my duty.”
Greenhill is East’s lone senior and Easterling is expecting big things out of her.
“I think Bryana the best defensive player in the region,” Easterling said. “But she needs to look to score more. She’s the kind of player where she takes open shots but she needs to get to the point where you’re looking for shots. When you do that, you’re going to shoot a higher percentage. She needs to stay healthy and out on the court and if she does that, she’s going to have a special year.”
With a loaded junior class and several other playmakers at the sophomore and freshman level, East Carter has the chance to be one of the deepest teams in the entire 16th Region.
“When we scrimmage in practice we have even teams,” Greenhill said. “We do have some depth because any five that’s on the floor is going to play hard and not lose anything.”
Adding to the depth of East Carter will be junior Kaylee Limmings who sat out all of last year because of a knee injury.
“I don’t think any team will be close to us as far as depth goes,” Easterling said. “We’ll be using it because of foul trouble and fatigue but not because of injuries. We have some young players who can contribute and I’m excited about how special this team can be.”
With four starters returning that averaged more than eight points a game, East Carter is ready to show they could be the team to beat.
“They’ve grown up and are more confident,” Easterling said. “They’re pretty talented.“
Easterling experimented in the summer with different lineups, including starting Stickler at the forward position. Combined with Stumbo and Greenhill, he was impressed with how they all held their own at the post.
“I was concerned because how would (Megan) would do against more physical players,” Easterling said. “She’s stronger than she looks and Impressed with her rebounding and never game where she got physically overpowered.”
Easterling added about Stumbo: “She could always shoot outside but this summer she showed a newfound willingness to go in there and battle in the post. Her competitive spirit has increased each year but I like the physical play she’s starting to accept it.”
Easterling believes Haley Hall, just a freshman, could lead his team in scoring at some point throughout the season.
“We’re a really tough matchup for anyone to guard,” Easterling said. “It doesn’t matter who is in the lineup, were going to be tough to handle.”
He knows there is a difference between summer ball and the high school basketball season. East Carter will be looking for their first 16th Region Championship since 2004 and try to get out of the first round for the first time in four seasons. The Lady Raiders lost to Lewis County for the second straight season in the 16th Region Tournament.
We try not to dwell on it too much but it’s in our minds,” Greenhill said. “With it being my senior year, this is it for me. We don’t want what happened then to happen this year.”
“They were very disappointed last year,” Easterling said. “I’m not taking anything away from Lewis County. They are a really good team. The older you get, the more determined you are to achieve what you can because you know the opportunities to do that are running out. They realize that and I think this summer showed them how good they can be.”
The weather might be cooler now, but East Carter has their sights on Diddle Arena and basking in the glow of the state tournament lights.
They’ll begin their run Dec. 3 at Elliott County.
Mackenzie Bates can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 1-800-247-6142.