By Gene Phelps
PONTOTOC – Olivia Owen doesn’t remember her coach, Bill Russell, asking her to play the post position this season for Pontotoc’s Lady Warriors.
“He told me that’s what I have to do,” the 5-foot-8 senior said, then smiled. “I know I’m going to have to be physical and strong because I’m smaller than everyone else.”
Russell laughs when asked about Owen’s true height.
“She’s going to be 5-8,” he said, knowing she’s closer to 5-7. “She’s made the transition well. She has the ability to play every position for us. She’s a strong, intelligent player.”
Pontotoc finished 31-4 last season and lost in the Class 4A state championship game to Bay High. The Lady Warriors dropped a lopsided battle on the boards in that game.
Russell’s concerned this season about his team’s lack of height.
“I feel good about our team, but I’m worried about our ability to defend the bigs,” he said. “Rebounding and size is what bothers me the most.
“In 4A that can be tough. That cost us in the championship last year.”
Kayla Rush, another 5-8 senior, will help Owen in the paint.
The Lady Warriors will have plenty of offensive pop on perimeter with the return of guards Kayla Russell, Marlee Hatcher and point guard Alex Brown.
Russell, the team’s top defender, can shoot the 3-pointer (106 made last year), but has worked on her dribble drive during the offseason.
“Defense is still my favorite part of the game,” said Russell, a senior and the coach’s daughter. “This year I know I’ve got to step up and score.”
Hatcher, a junior who averaged 14.8 per game playing point guard last season, has worked on her defensive play in the offseason.
Bottom line, teams playing the Lady Warriors can expect them to shoot a bunch of 3-pointers and play an aggressive, full-court pressure defense.
“I think we’re going to be a little better taking the ball to the goal this year,” Russell said. “I think our press is going to be better this year. We have more quickness.”