Pictured is the 2014-15 Alton Redbird girls' basketball team (front row, from left) Kenya Burnett, Destanee Dale, Cheriena Mitchell, Konnie Miller, Megan Paulda, LaJarvia Brown and Ayonna Clanton; (back row, from left) head coach Bob Rickman, Jewel Wagner, assistant coach Tonya Jackson, Chayvon Buckingham and assistant coach Danielle Schaus.
Alton girls’ basketball improved by leaps and bounds in the 2013-14 season. Second-year head coach Bobby Rickman wants to keep the program trending in the right direction in ‘14-15.
After wallowing in the basement of the Southwestern Conference in recent history, the Redbirds went 15-13 overall and 7-7 on the league slate in ‘13-14. On Dec. 12, 2013, AHS defeated Granite City 50-48 at GCHS to snap a 62-game losing streak in the SWC.
The bar had been raised for this season, but unfortunately, leading scorer and first team All-SWC pick Jordann Wilson is sidelined with a torn ACL while sophomore guard Jasmine Bishop transferred to Edwardsville, leaving a couple of unforeseen holes for the Birds.
Wilson could return late in the season depending on rehabilitation, but Rickman can’t depend on that happening. It would just be an added bonus.
“Last year was a great year for us finishing 7-7 in conference, breaking the losing streak we’d had in the conference for four and a half years,” Rickman said. “I think the girls came in, they had the right attitude and bought into what we were doing. It’s nothing special that I did, it’s more the girls bought in completely to what we were doing and they did a good job executing that. I realized after last year, though, we had a lot of room to grow. If we would have had more time to prepare for the season last year, I think we would have even been better. We lost some close games early on.
“It hurts going into this year losing two key starters and they didn’t graduate. It’s one thing when you prepare for it with graduation, but it’s another thing when injuries and transfers happen, but we’ve still got a core group of girls. We have eight girls returning that can contribute and give us some depth. We’re going to be more balanced this year.”
Juniors LaJarvia Brown (14.5 ppg.) and Jewel Wagner (4.3 ppg.) will be the focal points for Alton in ‘14-15. Wagner led the Redbirds with 6.4 rebounds per game.
Rickman sees depth behind the 5-foot-1 junior Brown and the 5-11 junior Wagner, too. Megan Paulda, a 5-9 senior; 5-6 senior Cheriena Mitchell, 5-9 junior Chayvon Buckingham, sophomore Kenya Burnett and 5-7 junior Destanee Dale will contribute, according to Rickman.
“I see a bunch of players filling the role of Jordann and Jasmine as opposed to one or two people,” he said. “I think the contribution of 1-8 is what is going to help us. Last year it was 1-3 carried us. This year I think we can have seven or eight girls who can score every night and make us a more balanced team.”
But with what looks to be more parity in the SWC with the graduation of Edwardsville’s Kourtney Dunbar (Tennessee) and Aaliyah Covington (Saint Louis) and Belleville West’s 6-5 center Jesheon Cooper (Vincennes), it should help Alton remain competitive, too.
“I think everyone in the conference needs to come in a little more optimistic of their chances,” Rickman said. “Belleville West lost the big girl in Cooper, but they’ve got two great guards returning (Shay Fluker and Imani Berry). Collinsville has a strong group returning and East St. Louis has got a lot of post players. It’s just going to be interesting to see how everything shakes out, because who did what in the offseason is going to show up. Hopefully we did enough to prepare and now with a second year in the system we can expand and move on from where we were last year.”
Rickman wants to keep the program trending in the positive direction, but with upgrades to the schedule it won’t be a cakewalk for the Redbirds. The second-year coach has dropped the Jerseyville Holiday Tournament and the Carrollton Tournament from the schedule, replacing them with the State Farm Holiday Invitational in Jefferson City, Mo., and the Washington Team Works Invitational in Washington. A trip to Quincy Notre Dame and a visit from powerhouse Incarnate Word and UCONN recruit Napheesa Collier also will add obstacles for AHS.
The thought process is to play larger programs that can better prepare the Redbirds for the Class 4A playoffs.
“First off with having Jordann and Jasmine and hoping they were coming back, we added Quincy Notre Dame and Incarnate Word,” Rickman said. “Our tournament schedule has changed, too. We still have our tournament, which started the 17th, but over Christmas we’re going to Jeff City to play in a tournament and then we’re going up and playing the same tournament the boys are playing in Washington. No longer are we in Jerseyville or Carrollton. We’re trying to get some competition to match the 4A level we’re going to see, because that’s what we need to see. Hopefully those experiences, though they might hurt us during the regular season, will help us when we get to the postseason.”
Alton opened with Lady Redbird Tip-Off Classic last week.
ALTON REDBIRDS GIRLS’ BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
Nov. 17-22 – Alton Lady Redbird Tip-Off Classic
Nov. 21 – vs. Mater Dei, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 – vs. Calhoun, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 2 – at Belleville East*, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 4 – vs. East St. Louis*, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 9 – vs. O’Fallon*, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 11 – at Granite City*, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 13 – at Quincy Notre Dame, TBA
Dec. 18 – at Collinsville*, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 27-29 – State Farm Holiday Invitational (Jefferson City, Mo,), TBA
Jan. 6 – vs. Belleville East*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 8 – at Belleville West*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 15 – at Edwardsville*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 17, 19 – at Washington Team Works Invitational (Washington, Ill.), TBA
Jan. 20 – vs. Granite City*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 22 – at East St. Louis*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 27 – at O’Fallon*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 29 – vs. Incarnate Word, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 3 – at Collinsville*, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 10 – vs. Belleville West*, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 12 – at Edwardsville*, 7:30 p.m.
ALTON REDBIRDS GIRLS’ BASKETBALL ROSTER
Coach: Bobby Rickman
Record last year: 15-13
Career record at school: 15-13 (1 year)
Konnie Miller, 5-8 F
Megan Paulda, 5-9 G-F
Jordann Wilson, 5-5 G
Cheriena Mitchell, 5-6 G-F
LaJarvia Brown, 5-1 G
Chayvon Buckingham, 5-9 F
Destanee Dale, 5-7 G-F
Jewel Wagner, 5-11 F
Kenya Burnett, 5-9 F
Ayonna Clanton, 5-3 G
The 5-1 junior guard will be the spark plug for the offense. After averaging 14.5 ppg. as a sophomore, good for second on the team, Brown will have to pick it up with leading scorer Jordann Brown sidelined with a torn ACL to start the 2014-15 season.
A 5-11 junior, Wagner will offer some much-needed size for the Redbirds. After leading AHS with 6.4 rpg. in ‘13-14, Wagner will be asked to provide a little more scoring punch this season as well as still cementing a paint presence for the Redbirds for rebounding and defense.