With a new coach and an almost entirely new group of starters, the Bristol Panthers will look completely different this year.
However, that doesn’t mean they expect to take a step back.
If first-year coach Randall Ward has his way, the Bristol program will still be business-as-usual.
Obviously they don’t expect greatness from the start, but the new group has put in a lot of work that they hope will pay off.
“I’m cautiously optimistic” said Ward. “Our girls have worked extremely hard this off-season, not just in the weight room but on the court to improve their skills. We are very cautiously optimistic that we can continue the success that Bristol Girls Basketball has had in recent years.”
There is only one player on the roster who received any significant playing time in last season’s district champion roster, Junior Payton Brook. She will be the anchor of the team this season.
“She’s the only one with a lot of experience to come back from last year’s team,” said Ward. “She’s a gym rat. Always at the gym, always asking to come to the gym. She’s a hard worker, a good person and makes it easy for a first-year head coach to switch jobs.”
Another girl set to play a big part with the Panthers this season is Brianna McDowell, who didn’t play last season but has returned for her senior year.
“She’s tall, athletic, she’s a basketball player, we’re very lucky.” said Ward. “I am very lucky for her that she can get through her senior year and come back to the team because she will definitely help us. She is our leader on and off the pitch.”
Junior Briauna Klingensmith will be a rising face for the Panthers this year. She hasn’t had much playing time in previous seasons due to the wealth of experience that lay ahead of her, but she is now expected to have a breakthrough year in her expanded role.
“She hasn’t played much in the last year but she did everything we asked of her.” said Ward. “She did really well in the scrimmages, she can deflect shots and she’s also a leader. She’s what we want Bristol Panthers basketball players to be. I can’t speak highly enough of her.”
Given that there’s so much inexperience on the list, there’s a lot of outside noise surrounding the program. Your goal is to end this
“They’re all trainable, they’re all hard workers, I can text them now and say we practice at 9 and every girl there would show up and work.” said Ward. “Plus, we all have a chip on our shoulders, including me as a first-time head coach. Every girl in the program hears the noise from outside that we lost a really good senior class and people don’t expect us to be that good. Every girl from JV to college, we all have a giant chip on our shoulders to prove people wrong.
Ward, who experienced something similar last fall as the offensive line coach on Garfield’s football team, knows how that chip on a team’s shoulder can really carry a program.
“As long as I train with the G-Men, we always feel like outsiders,” said Ward. “We got into the new league in football and nobody gave us a chance and we have had success there. I hope that the success can be transferred to the basketball court. We really enjoy this underdog role that we have. We have a chip on our shoulder.”
Bristol have already played their first two games, suffering losses to Garfield and Lowellville.
The team’s next match will be at home against Conneaut on Monday.
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