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Head Coach Mike McGuire is having a tough first season at the helm of the women’s basketball team. His bench consists of eight players, he currently has one player over 6 foot and playing in the Big South Conference is never easy. McGuire, however, is as optimistic as ever. He may not have size but he has spend, he may not have a deep bench but everyone gets to play and the Big South may be tough but the Highlanders have a good chance to win the rest of the games they play.
The women’s team currently has only one senior on the team, guard Breshara Gordon, so for Coach McGuire this is what you might call a rebuilding year.
“I think it’s rebuilding in terms of not having a full squad and not having the roster filled out the way you want it to in terms of position and not having a certain amount of kids at each position,” McGuire said.
McGuire has already taken steps to insure that a lack of players will not be an issue next year as he has already had five players sign letters of intent and will also have a walk-on tryout. Unfortunately that does not help the current team, which is continuing to have to play a lot of minutes, especially after losing junior center La’She Walker to a season-ending injury.
The Highlanders are currently sitting at 3-17 for the year after playing 10 games over the span of winter break in which they picked up their first Big South conference win of the year against rival Longwood. But McGuire feels that in this conference, winning the championship is one of the most important things.
“I told them, how much do we want to prove between now and March, because in reality this conference comes down to the conference tournament and who gets the NCAA bid,” McGuire said.
From the perspective of McGuire, the team seems to want to prove a lot as he said they continue to come to practice excited to work and they remain diligent in bettering themselves and the team.
McGuire understands how hard this season has been on the players and said that one player in particular has really stepped up with leading the team and continues to pump the team up even when they are down.
“Kiera McIvor, she’s not one that is always going to stand out in the box score but she has great practice habits, she is probably our best communicator and I think she has really invested into her teammates. She is only a junior so I think she has really stepped up in to that role.”
McIvor may not be leading the team in scoring or rebounding but she is second on the team in minutes played, behind only junior guard Ayana Avery, which shows again how much McGuire relies on her leadership on the floor.
Avery, however, is leading the team in multiple categories and the junior has really stepped up her point production this season. She is currently averaging a team high 14.5 points and is averaging a shocking 9 three pointers a game. Avery has made 66 on the year and is one long ball shy of tying the single season record.
“Ayana’s ability to shoot the ball has been a major strength,” Coach McGuire said.
As for things that have to change moving forward, Coach McGuire feels that their size is hurting them tremendously on the boards.
“A big concern for us is rebounding and being able to do so consistently and we have to limit people to one shot. It is a major challenge for this team since we are so small and limited.”
McGuire also said that the team has struggled in some games with foul trouble and trying to stay out of it with this short of a bench. But the one constant theme that tends to get the Highlanders into trouble is rebounding and not having the size to do so effectively. The first year coach has also had to harp constantly on discipline and being able to play good defense without fouling.
As for dealing with the short bench, Coach McGuire feels that the best strategy for the team is to try and keep the game in the 50’s.
“If the game gets to the 70s and 80s, it is not in our favor. We also cannot play incredibly fast because we get worn out. It is hard but I try and make sure they are ready to play with effort and focus,” McGuire said.
The head coach is seeing constant improvements however and said that to turn this season around they have to start executing better. He likes the speed they have this year, so because they are smaller, teams have to worry about being able to guard in a man-to-man situation.
“I know they don’t feel it in terms of record, but we are getting better. There is a lot of fight in this team,” McGuire said.
McGuire also feels that near the end of the first and second half, things just tend to fall apart, and he hopes to improve that quickly.
“The Campbell game on Saturday was 20-20 with three minutes to go in the first half and then we go to the locker room down eight. I don’t know if its because some of these girls are in new roles so they are having to learn through experience but we have been in a lot of games and the rest of the year I expect us to be in a lot more close ones,” McGuire said.
The remaining season does not get any easier for RU as they are currently in the middle of Big South play and unfortunately there are no reinforcements coming for the weary players quite yet.
“That’s what is so hard. They are fighting, they are competing, just sometimes we are outmanned. I’ve been really proud they haven’t quit because that would be the easy thing to do,” McGuire said.
Coach McGuire stays positive — and why would he not? The future is bright for this young team and coach.
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