Early injuries hamper Lady Rams’ season

Early injuries hamper Lady Rams’ season
March 12
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Craig T. Greenlee- Lady Rams point guard Angela Porter (3) goes strong to the basket.)

The pre-season proved to be a bad omen for the Winston-Salem State women’s basketball team. A rash of injuries conspired to derail the Lady Rams’ chances to finish among the CIAA’s upper echelon.

“We encountered a lot of obstacles,” said third-year coach A.G. Hall, whose team finished the season at 11-17. “We had a lot of injuries before the season even started. It was difficult to establish any kind of continuity and that carried over to the entire season.”

Hall admits that there were times when he believed his team was on its way to turning its season around. An eye-opening 66-57 home-court victory over eventual CIAA tournament champ Virginia State was encouraging. The same goes for the Lady Rams’ valiant effort in a 64-58 home loss to Livingstone, ranked No. 8 in the country at that time.

“Those games showed what we’re capable of,” Hall said. “We proved we could more than hold our own against the top teams.”

Entering the CIAA Tournament, not much was expected of the Lady Rams, who lost their last two games of the regular-season. And then there was the memory of last year’s early tournament exit, which had not been forgotten.

Even so, WSSU came through with a convincing 73-58 first-round win over Chowan. The Lady Rams used their depth to wear down the Hawks in the second half. In the meantime, Kesheria McNeil scored 21 points to lead the way. McNeil averaged 15 points in two games at Charlotte and was a CIAA All-Tournament pick.

There was a flip side, though. Against other teams, Shaw in particular, the WSSU women never performed like contenders. The Lady Bears, who made the CIAA Tournament final, beat the Lady Rams three times, which included an 88-59 blowout in the CIAA quarterfinals. “We never found a way to deal with their inside presence,” he said. “They made it so difficult for us to score.”

In large part, the inability to put points on the board prevented WSSU from rising above the .500 mark. Ironically, the defense was fine. The Lady Rams allowed the fewest points in the league (61.9 per game). On the other hand, they were last in scoring in the 12-team CIAA (59.6 points per game).

The absence of High Point University transfer Jatzmin Johnson didn’t help matters. Johnson, a 6-feet-1 sophomore center, sat out the season with a knee injury. With Johnson coming back at full strength, Hall is looking to recruit another center to provide frontline depth.

“Our lack of scoring hurt us badly,” he said. “What we need is a player at the 5 position (center) to control the middle, which will make the game easier for everybody around them. It’s a matter of adding the right pieces and that’s a good place to start. We’ll replace our seniors and build on what we already have.”

WSSU loses four seniors, which includes power forward Dionna Scott (12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds) a two-time All-CIAA pick. Starting point guard Taylar Wells is also gone, along with post player Jovanah Graham and forward Briana Wilder.

The future looks promising at the guard spots with the return of Awa Kalmstrom, Angela Porter, Morgan Smiley and Tiana Edwards. All were newcomers who gained valuable game experience. Kalmstrom, a gifted floor leader, joined the team in early January after transferring from the University of Utah. Edwards delivered as a 3-point shooting threat until illness hampered her effectiveness during the late stages of the season.

The backcourt could be very formidable, pending the return of McNeil, a junior who came off the bench to average 11.7 points per game, second-highest on the team. At presstime, the status of McNeil’s availability for next season was unknown.

Among WSSU’s remaining post players and forwards, Shaquira Palmer, Jeri Craine, Briana Arnold and Jasmine Carter will be counted on to provide added depth.

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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