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Ratcliff: I’m looking for heart, passion, Cougar Pride

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

 

David Gravely/SWT – Lady Cougar basketball Head Coach Scott Ratcliff gives his players direction during a recent practice.

Scott Ratcliff opened practice for the 2020-21 season with high expectations. Why shouldn’t he? His team returns a group of players that have made a trip to the state title game two years ago and won the Region Championship last season.

 

“We’re going to have a bullseye on our backs and we should,” Ratcliff, the new head coach of the Lady Cougar basketball team said. “These girls have done some really good things the past few years. This program has grown and we hope to see it continue growing. They’re putting in the work to be ready.”

 

Ratcliff will be joined on the varsity staff by Rick Secrist. The JV head coach will be Shaun Lawson and he will be assisted by Jennifer Ratcliff.

 

With the departure of former Head Coach Bradley Sutphin and his staff at the end of last season, Ratcliff says there has been no real letup in the players.

 

“The work during the offseason has been pretty good,” he said. “We have had about 95 participations with the returning varsity and JV girls and 8-10 eighth grade girls. This should really benefit the PCMS team. It was good to see a gym full of girls working to get better.”

 

 

Ratcliff will return a key group of starters from last season after losing five seniors to graduation. Maddie Ratcliff is now playing at Concord University. Kassidy Secrist is now a member of the Eastern Mennonite Royals. Bailey Nash is a member of the Louisburg College Hurricanes soccer team. With no seniors on the team this season, the juniors will be expected to lead the way.

 

Taryn Blankenship will be a junior this season.

 

“Taryn went through a physical transformation during the offseason,” Ratcliff said. “She has a great work ethic and attitude to go with that. Looking forward to seeing Taryn stay healthy and getting to play a full season. Should see our rebounds go up per game with her in. Along with her jump shot, which has gotten better, and her voice, we are definitely a better team with Taryn on the floor.”

 

“Ally Fleenor will be a junior also,” Ratcliff said. “She has worked hard on her conditioning and you can absolutely tell it. Her speed has picked up along with her confidence. She has been to several Exposure Camps this summer, finishing up on the All-Star team at all of the camps. That has helped get her confidence back. Hoping for her to have a very strong year this year.”

“Erin Russell is also a junior,” Ratcliff continued. “Great offseason. Completely different player and attitude from last year. Really matured and has figured out that she wants to be on the floor. Great shot, great free throw shooter and a great hustler. A lot tougher mentally and physically. Erin is going to make us a better basketball team this year.”

 

“Courtney Cregger has always been a workhorse,” he said. “She is a junior. Great rebounder and hustler. Great free throw shooter and her mid-range jumper is getting better every day along with her confidence. With Courtney in the game alongside of Fleenor and Blankenship, we should be as big as anybody we face this year.”

 

“Hailey Capps is our last junior,” he said. “Her shot is looking better along with her ball handling. She has been moved up to varsity the last two years for the post season after being captain of the JV team. Good defender and finishes strong at the basket.”

 

“Keslyn Secrist is a sophomore this year,” he said. “She another one that had a good offseason. Her shot continues to get better every day she is in the gym. She is the fastest girl on the team and never seems to get tired. Her ball handling seems to have gotten better also. She has worked hard in the weight room and on her conditioning. Great attitude with her teammates. She has that killer instinct. Look for Keslyn and a few other of our girls to compete for Player of the Year Honors.”

 

“Paige Huff is a sophomore,” Ratcliff continued. “Definitely has gotten more speed over the summer. Ball handling is looking better. She is not rushing her shot as much and is being more selective with her shot. Deadly from the 3-point range and is getting stronger attacking the basket.”

 

“Tori Vest is a sophomore who will be moving up from the JV team after a strong freshman year,” he said. “Her ball handling has gotten a 100 times better. One of the best wrap around moves on the team and finishes strong at the basket. She has been to all of the open gyms and shoot arounds and you can see her improvements. Even though she is undersized, she isn’t afraid to get into the paint and mix it up with the bigger girls.”

 

“Brook Goble also will be moving up from the JV team after a good year,” Ratcliff said. “She is a sophomore. Hardest worker we have in practice. Has good size and really good speed. Good ball handler who is gaining more confidence every practice. Her 3-point shot is looking better along with her decision making and her getting into the lane with a strong finish. Really good addition to our varsity squad.”

“Jaden Lawson, a freshman, is our last varsity player,” Ratcliff said. “Jaden played on the JV team last year as an eighth grader. She was the point guard and I look forward to her doing that some with the varsity team. Her 3-point shot is getting better with every practice. Really good ball handler. See’s the court really good and doesn’t turn the ball over. Great defender. Jaden will not be limited to point guard. She has had a growth spurt over the past year and that will allow her to play at all five positions.”

 

So what will it take for the Lady Cougars to be successful this season?

 

“I am looking for more heart, passion to win and Cougar Pride,” Ratcliff said. “I know that is three things, but those are the things I really want to see improve. It’s one thing to stick your hand in with everybody else’s and say ‘Cougar Pride,’ but when you really mean it and it gives you that chill, you and your game goes to a different level … goes to that championship level.”

 

With several solid years under their belt, the Lady Cougars can expect every night to be a big game.

 

“I expect to get everyone’s best, every single game,” Ratcliff said. “I think the district is strong. Christiansburg out rebounded us last year. Blacksburg got better every time we played them last year. Hidden Valley has always played with a lot of pride and has had plenty of success. Salem has a new coach and a transfer from Glenvar along with plenty of size and good talent coming up from their JV team, which was the only team to beat our JV team the past two seasons. Cave Spring has the Player of the Year coming back. Add that to a very young team. They always play Pulaski tough. Patrick Henry has been some good games the last two years. Their best scorers are returning along with some really good JV talent. Expect two really good games there. Carroll County is always great competition and a really good rivalry made possible through travel ball. They only lost one game last year. Pretty sure they went undefeated during regular season. We’re looking forward to all of these games.”

 

“For us to go deep into the state tournament, Huff, Cregger, and Russell need to have a big year,” Ratcliff concluded.

 

The Lady Cougar JV squad will also see some new faces this season.

 

“We have had a good addition to our JV team with Jacey Hendrix,” Ratcliff said. “She came out to the open gyms this fall and hasn’t missed a day. She’s a great worker with a want to learn attitude. Doesn’t say a lot or isn’t very flashy, just comes into the gym and works and does what is asked of her with no complaints. Very strong in the weight room and on the track. Has a really good motor. Looking forward to watching her grow over the next four years. Also added Destiney Duncan to the JV team. Came to tryouts with good size and some hard work. With continued hard work and some offseason training, we feel like Destiney is going to fit in really well.”

 

The remainder of the JV team will consist of freshmen Andi Ratcliff, Kenzlee Jones and Hannah Keefer. Each of these three players were moved up to play the full JV schedule last season and proved to be ferocious competitors.

 

The biggest problem, of course, for Coach Ratcliff has been working around and through COVID-19.

 

“COVID has affected my schedule by cutting it to just 14 games,” he said. “That cuts us to only four teams advancing to the region instead of eight. Definitely more pressure to win. We need to be focused and get it done. We talk about staying healthy every day. The girls are doing a good job with this. They want to play! They appreciate Scott Vest, Mrs. Bolling and Dr. Siers doing all they can to allow us to play. They missed a big part of their travel season because of COVID and they don’t want to miss out on another season. We are going to stay as healthy as we possibly can. They are all doing their part with wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing.”

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