By TYLER HENRY
Salina Post contributor
After a brutal 0-6 start to the 2020-21 season, the South Cougars girls basketball team has come roaring back winning five of their last six and placing third at the Salina Invitational, one of the best finishes in recent memory.
“I’ve been proud of how our team responded to a really tough start,” Cougar head coach Ryan Stuart said. “Our competition was off the charts in those first six games but we didn’t hang our heads, we came back after christmas, built up some momentum and now we’re trying to finish strong.”
With the momentum swinging their way, South has been able to play up to their potential, nearing .500 and dominating defensively despite lacking a lot of height.
“We’re a team with some talented girls on it, we’re just so physically undersized against some of our opponents,” Stuart said. “The wins allow our girls to see the benefit of their work and it was great to see them stick with it.”
Team defense has been the highlight of the Cougars 2020-21 campaign, holding opponents to just 44 points a game, and just 35 points during this big run.
“Our defensive intensity has been fantastic, if we could shoot the ball a little more consistently I think we can compete with anyone on our schedule.”
Offensively South has found good depth, with five girls averaging five or more points per game, but have yet to get into a rhythm and find a scorer consistently in double digits.
“Our shooting percentage has to improve,” he said. “We can’t control how big we are but we can control how hard we play and that’s been a big difference for us recently. We still need a little more out of our three leading scorers from last year to take that next step.”
While this team is led by sophomores and juniors like Kylie Arnold and Acacia Wise, one senior has stepped up and produced big minutes during the run.
“I think everybody on the team has picked up their defensive intensity which is what I wanted to see the most, but Lizzy Franco has been huge for us during this stretch,” he said. “She’s 5-7 playing the five for us and she’s had anywhere from 7-11 rebounds in this stretch which just goes to show how hard she’s worked on the glass.”
The road going forward will continue to be a rough one for the Cougars, with five of their last seven opponents boasting winning records including 9-2 Central, 8-1 Derby and 7-1 Maize.
“What I want from this team for the rest of the season is to continue to be committed to the defensive side of the ball because that gives us a chance to be in every game we play,” Stuart said. “If we start shooting the ball better I think we’ll be very dangerous down the stretch.”
South High will be back in action next Tuesday when they take on Salina Central for the second time this season.