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Girls basketball: East Hall ready to repeat
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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When French novelist Alphonse Karr first used that proverb in the 1800s, he more than likely didn’t have the East Hall girls basketball team in mind.

The idea that change elicits familiar results, however, is exactly what this year’s Lady Vikings’ squad is hoping for.

East Hall enters the 2007 season with a new head coach, four new starters, a new crop of guards and a new style of play. However, the Lady Vikings still see themselves as contenders to repeat as Lanierland and Region 7-AAA champions.

"It’s a lot of pressure," said returning starter and leading scorer Sada Wheeler. "People want to see us there (state championship) again, but I’m excited and I think we can do it."

The Lady Vikings lost starting shooting guard Kela Coleman, starting point guard Leania Bulloch, starting small forward Lisa Coleman and center Jennifer Harris to graduation.

"We worked real hard this summer on trying to figure out the point guard situation," said first-year Lady Vikings’ coach Joey Rider regarding the loss of both Kela Coleman and Leania Bulloch who, while the helm of the Lady Vikings’ offense, won a Class AAA state title.

"Our young guards have been working extra hard," said Jessica Blackwell, who hit the winning shot in East Hall’s state semifinal game against Kendrick in Macon. "I am proud of them. We expected them not to get into the groove so quickly because they don’t have any experience."

They return from the 2007 Class AAA state championship team starter and Times 2007 Player of the Year Wheeler, reserve shooting guard Blackwell, reserve point guard Sonata Chester and reserve forward Tierra Benton.

"Jessica (Blackwell) is coming off an injury-plagued summer," said Rider. "So we are trying to get her back in there. Sada (Wheeler), well, the girls will follow her, whatever level of effort she’s giving the team gives and we all give."

Rider went on to say that Benton is the team’s spark plug and high-energy player.

"TT (Tierra Benton) is full speed all the time, you have to keep up with her and that’s a good thing," said Rider.

Other players off the 2007 roster are on the 2007 roster, but none of them have played in a varsity game.

"(Former East Hall coach) Coach Pritchett played nine players," said Rider. "Five of them are gone and three of those players were backups. Sada (Wheeler) is the only player who will have the same role as she did last year."

Blackwell, Benton and Chester will not only play more minutes but also be counted on to contribute moreso on the offensive end than they did last year.

Rider noted that after those four players, "nobody has seen a varsity court. We have a lot of maturing to do but we are a talented group and that can cure a lot of mistakes."

Vying for the starting point guard position are sophomore Dorreka Faulkner and junior Erin McGonigle.

"They are the two best candidates for point guard," said Rider. "One week Dorreka (Faulkner) will have a great week and the other week Erin (McGonigle) will have a great week and I hope that both of them end up stepping up and playing."

Rider also noted that Blackwell could step in to play the point guard when the team is in the half-court set.

"We also have a good shooter in Hannah Strickland," said Rider. Strickland will be called upon to give a breather to Blackwell or Chester.

When post players Wheeler and Benton need a break Rider will look to juniors Kristina Harris and Symone Hampton, two reserve forwards that he thinks can contribute positive minutes.

Rider, a 1991 graduate of East Hall High and former coach of the Hart County girls basketball team, is not only putting novice varsity players into a varsity mindset but is also implementing a completely new style of play.

"We are going to a more up pace game," said Rider. "(Under coach Pritchett) they were great at the half-court game, but that’s not what I’ve done in the past, it’s not what I’m comfortable with."

A faster style of play includes more fast breaks, man-to-man full court presses, picking the ball up at half court when not in a full-court set, traps, creating controlled chaos, turnovers and easy scores.

"The thing about the girls, and everybody really, is they watch the boys and think everybody should play that way," said Rider. "It’s what they want to do."

Rider was quick to say that playing at a faster tempo does not mean playing "street ball."

"It’s a big learning curve," he said. "The girls are still thinking a lot instead of reacting a lot, but I am excited about it and they are receptive to the changes we are making."

"It’s (the new style of play) a little confusing but we’re getting there," said Wheeler.

"We tried to get coach Pritchett to do that (go to a faster style) for the longest time," said senior guard Blackwell. "Pressing, doing fast breaks; we aren’t used to it but are handling it good."

A faster style of play also means a higher level of endurance and a need a higher level of endurance can only mean one thing, the Lady Vikings have been doing a lot of running in the summer months and early part of the season.

"We are still getting to the point where everyone can do a (conditioning) drill in a set amount of time," said Rider. "The girls are working hard and making it, touching all the lines and not cheating themselves, but we all have to be able to do a timed drill in the right amount of time for the offensive style to work."

Rider alluded to the fact that, even though his team is inexperienced, they still see themselves as contenders for championships. "I hope our girls feel like we are probably one of the better teams if not the better team."

"The girls are stepping up and working hard," said Wheeler. "We know what we have to do."

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