Women’s basketball insider series:
Week one of Longwood women’s basketball practice began on Oct. 2, and brought basketball is back in Farmville, Va.
The Lancers are coming off of a 4-26 record for the second time in the last three seasons, and are picked to finished ninth in the preseason Big South poll.
The team has a lot of new faces, as half of their 16 person roster are new to the team. That new includes one senior walk on, three transfers, and four freshmen.
Monday, Oct. 2, 5:30 a.m.
I walk into the gym for the first day of practice, and all I can hear is “We Are The Champions” by Queen playing as players, and then coaches, climbing up a ladder and cutting parts of the net.
Head coach Bill Reinson cutting down the last piece of the net
The reason for what may seem like an insane thing to do (and a waste of a net), is to get the players to buy into a winning mentality, and give the feeling of what it feels like to cut the net down, which is a tradition in college basketball for the team that wins the conference, and NCAA tournament.
Weeks prior to first practice
Longwood women’s basketball head coach, Bill Reinson, gave me the okay to come to the team’s practices every weekday from 5:30 until about 8 a.m.
By going to practice, I was given the opportunity to get a up close look at what I was would be writing about in the series. Starting with the new coaching staff, players like Kate Spradlin and Casey Ripp, and the new offensive and defensive game plans.
New gameplan hopes to bring spark to the Lancers
Week two of practice for the women’s basketball team, and it’s similar work to last week.
Working on getting all the players familiar with each other, along with setting the foundation for the offensive, and defensive system they will be running this season.
The team last season finished third to last in scoring (55.1 points per game), and last a defensive scoring (75.9 points per game), en route to a 4-26 overall record, 1-17 in conference.
On offense, they will play an fast paced system that revolves around bring the ball up the court quickly, fast breaks, and three point shooting.
“The ideal situation is to constantly attack, and constantly put pressure on the opponent.” says Reinson. “We have an opportunity, I think to be the only team in our conference to play at that pace, and that’s what we’re looking for.’
On how the offense fits the team’s personnel, senior point guard Micaela Ellis says, “We mainly have guards on our team, and our bigs aren’t super tall. So our advantages are that we’re quick and can get the ball up the court faster.”
A season ago, the team shot just 23.8 percent from behind the three point arc, putting them at eighth in the conference.
Redshirt sophomore Spradlin lead the team in three pointers made (39) and three point shooting percentage (38.2) last season.
With the new offense in place, Spradlin believes that the new offense will help bolster their attack.
She says, “We have a lot of guards that like to play fast so that’ll play right into our hands.”
“I’m really excited about it especially because we’re aiming to take a lot of threes every game.” she adds. “I think making three point shots raises the energy level a little bit. It’s almost like the equivalent in the men’s game.”
Along with guards like Ellis, Spradlin and sophomore guard Jada Russell, the Lancers have forwards like senior Autumn Childress and junior Kristina Antonenko who can also knock down three-point jumpers.
With the bigs being able knock down those outside shots, Ellis says, “It helps us because it stretches the defense out. It makes bigs come out, and they can’t just stand in the paint.”
With that court spacing, Ellis believes it will create driving lanes for her and the other guards.
Onto the defense, the Lancers look to play a full court press to try to speed the game up and force turnovers, which in turn will create easy scoring chances.
Ellis practicing the full court press on Assistant Coach Antwan Harris
“It speeds the game up, and plays into our favor,” says Ellis.
Back to last season, creating turnovers was an issue, as they finished seventh in the Big South with 203 steals, or 6.8 steals per game. The team also finished with a negative turnover differential, giving up nearly 60 more turnovers than their opponents.
Reinson says “It’s suppose to be an attack system. We’re supposed to be pressing both full court, and half court.”
In order to keep the team from being winded, he adds the team plans to rotate their players to maintain pressure on their opponents.
Reinson also notes after a team gets past half court and tries to run their offense, Longwood will stay in a trap/press oriented scheme.
“We’re not gonna let them run their offense,” he says.
One of the players that will play a key part in the new gameplans is the senior Casey Ripp.
From REC to reality
It’s week three of practice for the team, and now a couple of weeks away from the season officially beginning.
The focuses this week was on running drills and scrimmages against practice players, who simulated the Marshall Thundering Herd’s offense and defense, who will be the Lancers first game of the season on Nov. 10.
Ripp eyeing the ball after she put up the shot
One player benefitting from the three point orientated offense is the Midlothian, Va. native, Ripp.
At James River High School, Ripp had a strong career. As a sophomore, she was the first player in 10 years to score 30 points in a game. Her game didn’t go unnoticed as she drew offers from Division II and III schools
“I was a freshman on varsity, so I played all four year, and started since sophomore year. I got first team all-conference, so I had a successful career,” says Ripp.
But after high school, Ripp’s passion was redirected to pursuing a career as a special education teacher.
“All the schools I was given opportunities to play at, none of them had the education program I was looking for. So that being said, I wanted to come to Longwood for the awesome education program,” says Ripp.
Ripp however couldn’t totally leave basketball behind, so she joined the club team, and by her junior year, would become the president.
“I’ve always loved the game and I was committed to that (club basketball),” says Ripp.
Then it all changed in the 2017 Longwood Hearts Basketball (Student-Faculty basketball) game.
Ripp was picked to participate, and her game caught the eye of the now Associate Head Coach Sherrie Tucker.
“I just saw her out there playing hard and taking it seriously. So that stuck out to me, the fact she was giving 100 percent in a game where people might not take it that serious, and you only get that from young ladies that are passionate about the game,” says Tucker.
“After the game, she (Tucker) pulled me aside and asked ‘why have you not tried out before? You’re doing great and we would love to see you if you want to come visit a practice,’” says Ripp.
“She can do a lot of things on the court, she’s very smart, she can shoot the basketball, and puts it to the floor (dribbles) real well,” says Reinson. “She’s just a good fit for what we’re doing.”
Reinson then notes how with Ripp’s skill set and willingness to leave it all out on the court makes her into a glue player. , meaning that no matter who else is on the court, Ripp provides to and fits with them, making a cohesive unit.
While Ripp is a talented player on the court, what stands out the most about her is her personality and playful nature.
“She’s definitely a jokester, and you definitely expect to get some laughs from Casey Ripp after practice. She brings that energy, she brings that really happy go lucky energy, and you definitely need that,” says Tucker.
Along with being a Division I student-athlete, Ripp is also very active on campus as she’s part of Ambassadors, the president of Mortar Board, and president of Special Education Ambassadors. Not to mention that she holds a 3.799 GPA.
Ripp is set to graduate in May 2018, with her Bachelor’s degree, then will stay at Longwood for one more year to receive her master’s with another year of eligibility.
Alongside Ripp, another player that benefits and plays a big role for the team is the Lord Botetourt, Va. native Spradlin.
From walk on to two sport standout
Spradlin standing ready as the team runs a defensive drill
At one point in time, Spradlin didn’t know where she was going to be playing after her high school career was over.
She received some Division III offers to play, but she “knew she wanted to play at this level”, referring to playing at the Division I level. Spradlin arrived to Longwood as a walk on for the women’s basketball team
Fast forward a few years, and not only has she become an intrical part of the women’s basketball team, but one of the best runners for the cross country team.
“Cross country team was short runners and they needed a little bit of help,” says Spradlin. “So I told them I would come and help them out.”
Spradlin ran in two meets, and finished as the top runner in one of them before getting sick and having that season cut short.
On Spradlin’s success, cross country Head Coach Catherine Hanson immediately says, “She finished first.”
Spradlin was surprised with her success, saying she was “just trying to catch up” with the rest of the team before she decided on a new goal.
“If I’m gonna run, I might as well win,” she says.
Hanson first worked with Spradlin when she helped work out the entire women’s basketball team over the summer.
“I condition the women’s basketball players during the summer. The agreement between coach Reinson and I was that I would have a few of his girls fun a few meets, and of course Kate heard about it and Kate being Kate, she wanted to be on board,” says Hanson.
Reinson adds, “Kate is a warrior, you could put her in any sport and Kate will feel fine.”
Reflecting on her time with the cross country team, Spradlin says, “I really enjoyed it. I loved all the girls, and the coaches. It was a good experience.”
A big difference between the two sports, is who the athlete runs. In basketball, you sprint from beginning to end, but in cross country, pace plays a huge role.
By participating, Spradlin says the lengthy races improved her focus, requiring her to stay mentally engaged for a longer period continuously.
“It’s a lot different than on the basketball court where you stop the game every 30-45 seconds,” she says.
To balance both sports, she says the basketball team typically conditioned with cross country 1-2 times per week.
“I just tried to keep up with their girls and find my rhythm and find my time,” the sophomore says.
While Spradlin says she loved her entire experience with cross country, she says she leaned on fellow runner Casey Williams the most. The pair “really challenged” each other.
Hanson says the addition of Spradlin’s energy helped motivate the entire team.
“They all (the team) fell in love with her and she made practice more intense for the girls that should be running faster,” she says. “As far as a person goes, Kate is probably one of most coachable people I’ve ever worked with.”
Beyond physical fitness, Spradlin says running cross country impacted on her leadership skills.
“I learned a lot of their girls as far as encouragement, and a positive attitude that I can bring to our team,” she says.
Reinson adds to it and says, “I think when you’ve been watching other teams interact and what they do, I think it always has an effect on you.”
Trying to continue to improve Spradlin and Ripp is the coaching staff, which has seen some changes over the offseason.
Longwood adds two new faces to the coaching staff
The Lancers came away with their first win of the season by the score of 84-82. In the game, the team had five players score in double-digits. Leading the way was another player from the Midlothian area, as Childress had 19 points and racked up 15 rebounds.
The win was number 48 for Reinson in his tenure with Longwood.
Reinson is now in his seventh season, but he in the offseason he made some changes to the coaching staff. He promoted Tucker to associate head coach and hired two new assistant coaches in Messiah Reames and Antwon Harris.
Harris talking to players prior to practice with Reames listening in
Reinson says the new coaches will help create a balanced coaching staff, with the ability to help mentor and connect with all players.
Prior to Longwood, Reames coached for the Philly Triple Threat AAU program and for a high school women’s varsity basketball team in Pennsylvania. He also served as a skills assistant with James Madison University and George Washington University.
Then he was offered a job at Longwood.
“I’ve always had that dream of basketball one day to be a full time job, because that’s my passion and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. So when the opportunity came to join the Lancer family, I had to take it,” he says.
Reinson called Reames’ energy “infectious,” saying the assistant coach adds a necessary piece to the staff.
Reinson then adds “We needed a little bit more energy, and coach Reames definitely bring that. He’s very intense and demanding, and he brings things that I don’t.”
Reames says, “My energy is always up, and I’m super enthusiastic and passionate about what I do. I think me being a spark plug adds an element that’s needed.”
The other new comer was once a player in the Big South conference, as coach Harris played two years at Winthrop University after playing two years at Highland Community College.
Harris’s more laid back coaching style serves as the perfect compliment to the upbeat, and fiery coaching nature of Reames. He says he believes both of their coaching styles struck a “balance so the players can get both sides of it, but know we’re trying to get the same thing across.”
He says that Reames and his coaching style create a “balance so the players can get both sides of it, but know we’re trying to get the same thing across.”
While Harris played for Winthrop, he says he had never thought about being a coach. “I thought I’d finish my career, and maybe play a little bit overseas professionally. Then get into teaching or being a counselor,” he says.
Instead, the opportunity unexpectedly fell into his lap – his junior college program reached out, asking for him to coach. “I stepped up to the plate, and put my all into it,” he says.
Tucker smirking after a player teases her
The new Associate head coach, Tucker, also says she didn’t see coaching in her future.
“At first, I really didn’t want to become a coach. When I was a player, I had coaches ask me if I thought about coaching, and would tell them I didn’t want that life,” says Tucker.
Also known as “Tuck” by the players, Tucker saw a successful collegiate career at Division I Coppin State University, averaging 15.3 points, and 4.7 rebounds per game. After graduating, she was one of two Coppin State women’s basketball players to see their jersey retired. Her illustrious tenure sent her overseas for two seasons before her last stop as a practice player for the Washington Mystics in Women’s National Basketball Association.
After her playing career, Tucker worked as a behavior specialist.
“I would say I did it at first for a check, but it started to become something I loved. The fact that I could build relationships with younger people and impact their lives, and I think coaching stemmed from there,” she says.
She draws from her own experiences as student-athlete to aid her approach as a coach.
“I think it’s key in our business to build relationships with these young ladies. We go through a lot of experiences and I’ve been exactly where these girls are,” says Tucker.
After joining the Longwood staff in 2013, Tucker called her off-season promotion “amazing.”
“Coach Reinson has a lot of trust in me and it shows. He gave me a lot of responsibility where he lets me prove myself. And I’m forever grateful for him giving me this opportunity,” says Tucker.
In addition to her roles as the team travel coordinator, academic and film liaison, and lead the post-player skill development, she now is Reinson’s second in command.
After four years with the program, Reinson says Tucker knew him better than “anyone else in this building” as he explained his choice. “She knows me,” he says.
Bring it all together is Reinson, who now has a 48-130 record as the head coach, but he looks to get the team back to where it was in the 2012-13 season when the Lancers reached the Big South Championship game.
After the first six games of the season, the team is sitting at a 1-5 record with five games left until conference play begins.
The Lancers a season ago also started with a record of 1-5 in their first six games, but this season’s stats show signs of improvement from last year.
So far the Lancers have bumped their scoring averages up from 55.1 points per game (ppg), to 63.3 ppg this season.
Along with the offense the defense has also seen some improvement as they went from forcing 16.7 turnovers a game to creating 18.3 per game in the young season.
Ripp and Spradlin are both off to cold starts from beyond as they are shooting 11.1% and 22.6% respectively.
However, those percentages could be rising very soon as the next three out of conference games for the Lancers are favorable ones. The team will play at Wagner (Dec. 10), Milligan at home (Dec. 13) and back on the road to Eastern Michigan.
After those games, Longwood will play at George Mason (Dec. 28) and then have Norfolk State come to Farmville to end non-conference play, and begin Big South play.