NEW PARIS — Coming off its best season in several years, National Trail’s girls basketball team will be looking to ride that momentum into the 2019-20 season.
The Blazers, 13-11 last season and winners of its first tournament game since 2013, will rely on seniors Makena Laird, Davlyn Werner and Kelsey Patrum to provide leadership and guide the program.
“I think we’ll go as far as our seniors lead us,” James Byrd, the Blazers second-year coach, said. “I think that will be important. It really, really will as far as communication and being able to lead not only by example, but by their body language. I’m a big body language guy and I think that sometimes our body language can get bad. If that does, then it affects the rest of our game.”
Byrd said the loss of Savanah Abner, Evan Byrd, and Bobbi Jean Grimes to graduation will hurt, but his team also returns several key players.
“I thought all three were good leaders,” he said. “That part of it is a big miss. Defensive effort will be a miss as well. So we’ll have to pick up in those sports – leadership and defensively.”
The Blazers return their top two scorers from a season ago in junior Makena Laird (2nd team All-CCC) and sophomore Skylar Ward.
“They are two huge factors coming back,” Byrd said. “Having my two leading scorers back helps. That’s one way of moving forward from the leadership we lost.”
Junior Molly Skinner also returns.
In addition, Werner and Patrum also return to give Byrd a solid senior class.
“They are important as far as leadership and just what they are going to mean to the team this year,” he said.
Sophomore J’Da Jackson, who played a key role late last season as a freshman, is also back.
Juniors Lexi Benedict and Caitlin Gilland will add depth.
Freshman Micaiah Byrd will also fit into the mix once she returns from an injury.
“We’re going to have a rotation of probably about eight (players) right now without Micaiah,” Coach Byrd said. “Everybody’s going to have to play big minutes in key roles for us. If Micaiah comes back then that’s going to help our team in a lot of different areas.”
Last season the Blazers had a limited eight-player rotation, but relied heavily on the starters. This season, Byrd is hoping for more contributions from everyone.
“We kind of played eight for the most part last year, but I played my seniors a lot. My core five played a lot,” he said. “I think the depth is going to help us. We’re going to have to score better, more consistently. That was our problem last year. So hopefully we can do that this year.”
Byrd is hoping his team can build off the success of last season, but noted he toughened up the non-league schedule.
“I’d like to build off what we did last year. Obviously, it was the best record we’ve had in a while,” he said. “Being right around .500 and being able to win a tournament game was good for us, good for our morale and our program. I’d like to be able to match that or be a little bit better than our .500 record last year. With that being said, we’ve strengthened our schedule quite a bit this year. We have some different match-ups for us with the expectations with some of the girls we have coming back.”
Trail added Legacy Christian Academy and an early season tournament at Arcanum.
Byrd sees the Cross County Conference race being open, but noted Tri-Village is at the top of most everyone’s list.
“I think a top five finish in the league would be good for us,” he said. “Obviously, we’re top heavy. Tri-Village is going to be really, really good. Arcanum’s good. F-M’s good. Bradford’s going to be strong. Bethel’s strong. I think you’re top seven, eight teams are pretty good. And for us to be in the top five would be good, top four would be great. That would be a good goal for us – to be above .500 and finish in the top five of our league.”
Byrd said Blazers fans can expect to watch a team that plays hard for 32 minutes.
“I would expect them to see what we did last year as far as play hard, more consistently,” he said. “There were too many games where I thought we dropped off. But I hope what they see is similar to what we did with Bradford and Arcanum, but be able to sustain that effort across an entire game. I think if we play hard and communicate I think we’ll have a chance to win a lot of games. But if those things fall off then we’ll lose some games that we probably shouldn’t.”
Trail is scheduled to open the season at the Roy Hutchinson Memorial Tournament, host by Arcanum, on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22-23.
The Blazers will play their first home game on Tuesday, Nov. 26 against Miami East.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-687-4056 or follow on Twitter @emowen_RH