By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
BELMONT – Chris Higginbottom wasn’t sure what to expect from his Belmont Lady Cardinals this season.
The coach had only two starters back from last year’s team that won the 3A state title and finished 33-1.
“Our two starters were the only two players we had with any experience,” he said. “My concern was our inexperience. They say, ‘When you play inexperience, you get inconsistency.’’’
The Lady Cardinals, however, have been nothing but consistent … consistent winners. Belmont, ranked No. 5 in the Daily Journal’s first basketball rankings of the season, has posted a 14-2 overall record and is 5-1 in Division 1-3A play.
One of the Lady Cardinals’ losses is to No. 2-ranked Ripley, a division rival, and a team they defeated last season in the state championship game.
“After we got some game experience I thought we’d be OK,” Higginbottom said. “I’ve had some players step it up a lot more than I expected.”
One of those was untested junior forward Kelsie Montgomery, who missed a majority of her freshman and sophomore seasons after suffering knee injuries (ACL) that required surgery. The 6-footer is averaging 12 points and five rebounds per game.
“She’s brought a lot excitement back to the team,” Higginbottom said.
Headed into the season, the coach was excited about freshman guard Natasha Jones, who scored 28 points and hit five 3-pointers in the opener. However, she suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the second game.
Jada Luster, a junior, and sophomore Faith English have stepped up and played well in Jones’ spot.
Domonique Allen, a 5-9 senior forward, had little experience prior to this season, but has become a steady offensive and defensive rebounder.
“She scores on a lot of putbacks,” Higginbottom said. “I tell her, ‘Any shot your teammates miss is a pass to you.’’’
They’ve joined returning starters Leslie Robinson, a junior point guard, and senior forward Angelia Allen.