Young Lady Panthers get time to shine

Published 11:49 pm Thursday, January 25, 2018

PINETOWN — Northside already had a 20-point lead by the end of the first quarter of Thursday’s win over Mattamuskeet. The visiting Lady Lakers couldn’t contain Northside’s offense, and had no answer for the Lady Panthers’ defense.

The large, early lead gave Northside an opportunity to get some of its younger bench players on the floor. Freshmen Kat Slade and Akleelah Moore were among the rookies that saw significant playing time on Thursday’s return from a break for exams.

Getting younger players experience on the floor is important. Head coach Michelle Leathers knows that there are some aspects of the game that simply can’t be taught in practice.

“Finding open shots. Getting in passing lanes. Reading defense,” Leathers said, outlining intricacies that are better taught in a game. “You’ve got to connect with their eyes. … A lot of times, it’s like the light bulb goes off and they say, ‘Yeah, I understand now.’

“They get to see it and it gets a little easier. Some of them get it. With others, it can take a while.”

Leathers said it’s key in building toward the next season. She noted that, other than junior guard Gabby Slade, all of Northside’s second string was in this position last year. She expects a number of the Lady Panthers that saw extra action on Thursday will be expected to play more minutes on a consistent basis next year.

One of them is Grace Armstrong. She emerged as a young star for Leathers’ volleyball squad in the fall. Leathers said the sophomore didn’t know much about basketball coming into this season. Her length combined with what she’s learned has made her an increasingly valuable reserve forward.

That said, some younger players have emerged as crucial players quickly. Prentiss Thomas and Ke’Shayla Arthur have been playing plenty of minutes this year. Leathers likes the growth she’s seen from them on both sides of the ball.

Junior Amelia Woolard pushes her way to the basket. She’s one of three juniors that will be relied on as a leader next season.

“I’m leaning on them now,” she said. “They’ve become more aggressive. I like the fact that Prentiss will take it to the basket really hard. She always works hard. It’s just being aggressive. Ke’Shayla is realizing she’s longer than she thinks she is. She can steal the ball.”

Leathers says she always tends to have a young team. The Lady Panthers are going to lose four seniors — Abby Mooring, Savannah Slade, Brooklyn Hudnell and Majala Canady — after this campaign.

However, they’re set to have a senior point guard in Gabby Slade. Jessica Foster will be expected to take another step forward. There will be two sophomores accustomed to responsibility. Other juniors-to-be like Armstrong and Ve’Era Holloway, Leathers hopes, will keep progressing.

Next year’s team could be loaded with veteran, upperclassman talent. For this year, though, Leathers defines success as continued improvement down the stretch.