The Abundant Life Lady Owls are in for a different kind of season this year, and that difference starts at the top.
Former coach Justin Mosely has stepped into administration, while new head coach Lydia Fincher takes over the Lady Owls.
A recent college graduate, Fincher is ready to get the season rolling and has a definite idea about where she wants to take this team.
"I’m expecting a lot from these girls," Fincher said. "We’re going to run a real up tempo, fast-paced offense. Our plan to go out there, and to out run and beat teams up and down the court."
Fincher is still in the process of getting the girls in shape for that kind of tempo. With only eight Owls on the roster, depth and keeping fresh legs on the court is a concern.
While small in numbers, the Lady Owls do have four seniors and a junior, so there is some basketball experience there. On the other hand, those five didn’t see extended minutes last season, so big game experience is something that will have to come this season.
A fast offense needs ball handlers and that’s one area the Lady Owls are fine with. Point guard Lauren McClendon runs the offense and has impressed Fincher.
"Lauren is smart with how she handles the ball," said Fincher. "She can drive and get in the lane just about whenever she wants to."
The Lady Owls also have another two or three solid three-point shooters for McClendon to drive and kick to, but a post presence is something the team is lacking. Without a true center, the Lady Owls had a hard time in a recent benefit scrimmage with E-Stem’s muscular six-footer.
Defensively, the Lady Owls will look to mirror their fast-paced offense with a full-court press. Getting in the kind of shape that kind of a marathon approach takes is still an ongoing process.
"We’re guard heavy, so we can’t really wait for teams to come and set up an offense and get it inside," Fincher said. "We want to press, but we’re still working hard to get in press shape. The girls are all practicing really hard and are honestly giving 100 percent every day."
The Lady Owls will be playing against Buffalo Island Central and Bay in tournament games this week. The thought process going into these games isn’t to worry about what those teams will try and do, but rather to work on and perfect what the Owls need to do.
"I told the girls that they need to be ready to play for that name across their chest," said Fincher. "I want to play with a lot of pride and take pride in this school."
While much of the state is focused on football this time of year, the Abundant Life Owls have a group of guys ready to hit the hardwood this week.
Playing in the 2A-4 conference this season, the Owls will head to Buffalo Island Central this week for a tournament and the first real games of the season. Abundant Life did host the E-Stem Charter School on Friday in a benefit scrimmage.
Too many turnovers in the backcourt hurt the Owls in that contest, but did serve to show the areas the team needs work. Coach Chris Horton is still looking for consistent play out of his point guards.
Glen Ford is starting at point guard right now, and has the athletic ability and handles to excel at the position. If he can get control of his decision making and take better care of the ball, the Owls could really make some noise this year.
Much of that noise will come thanks to 6’5 forward Eric Moore, who Horton says is probably one of the five best post players in all of Class 2A.
Moore averaged close to 25 points and 11 rebounds per game last season for the Owls.
"There’s not a lot of guys in 2A who can match up with him," said Horton. "He’s got the size and strength to score down low, but he can also step out and hit threes. This team will go as he goes this year."
While Moore anchors the team and Ford continues to grow, the Owls also return Blake Holmes, the best shooter on the team.
"We lost four seniors to graduation, but we return the core of our team from last year," Horton said. "I think we should definitely finish in the top three in the conference."
Making it hard for the Owls to finish at the top of the conference will be traditional power England. Poyen returns several starters from a solid team last season.
To help get ready for the conference, to toughen the team and give them experience, Horton has scheduled non-conference games against larger schools like Rogers Heritage and Searcy. He tried to get Springdale on the schedule as well for when they played Heritage, but couldn’t work it out with the Lady Bulldogs to play the Lady Owls as well.
"I feel that we could really make a big splash if we can get in the state tournament," said Horton. "I’m ready to play and I think the guys are too."