Young Lady Panthers stepping up

Lenoir City High School’s Christa Angelos drives to the basket during a game against Sullivan South High School.

The Lenoir City High School Lady Panthers (4-11, 0-4 District 4-3A) returned to the court Friday after a week off and fell 48-42 in a rematch against the Knoxville Halls High School Lady Red Devils.

Despite dealing with roster attrition, head coach Tim Smith was pleased with his team’s strong performance. Halls defeated Lenoir City 52-41 earlier this season.

“We had one girl ejected in the second quarter, a starter ejected, one on the bench, one who’s no longer playing anymore and one that was sick, so we were playing, really, with one starter and four replacements,” Smith said. “The only starter in there from the previous game was Jordan Gresham. We were ahead but right before we went into halftime, a girl shot and took the lead, so we were in that game all the way until the end when we had that foul, which was actually a positive. We actually played pretty well, considering we played a different team.”

Gresham has stepped into a starting role this season and has been the team’s best player in the paint with her size and strength.

“I felt like we really, really stepped up as a team and played together,” she said. “I thought our fight was really hard, and I think this game was a definite turnaround for the new year. I think we’re looking at this year as a second half of the game.”

Gresham played in several games last season but has quickly transitioned into a reliable post and team leader this year.

“I think it’s allowed me to push myself, especially for my team,” she said. “It was kind of difficult at first because I’m not really tall enough as a post, but I’ve really stepped into my role. I think all of my coaches and my team have pushed me to become a better player. I think it’s really helped. I feel like I’m definitely one of the leaders with the seniors, too. I definitely feel like I’ve become more of a leader and more vocal.”

Freshman point guard Natalie Johnson has also stepped into a meaningful role.

“I mean, it’s different and it reminds me ... I play AAU, so it reminds me of that because it’s competition and I just think of each game differently,” Johnson said. “Just go in there and play like I normally play.”

She admits the transition to high school has been tough, but she has quickly adapted with help from former Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School head coach Rachel Gray now on staff at LCHS.

“It’s been good, I mean, (Gray) still encourages me like she did in middle school, she’s like the same and encourages everybody on what to do,” Johnson said. “She knows what we can do, so she just tells us that we can do it and just encourages us. There’s more competition I would say than there was in middle school. There’s good teams out there, you’ve just got to compete with them. I think I’ve done pretty good so far. I help set up the plays for my teammates and help them score and stuff.”

Although young and inexperienced, Smith believes his team is beginning to understand what it takes to compete.

“I think we understand our roles a lot better, we understand that you can’t just go in there and just jack up shots — we’re learning what a good shot is,” he said. “Although we have a lot of turnovers, I think our turnovers are better, not so much turnovers for points as much as maybe not just taking care of the ball and getting violations, and those are the kind of turnovers we’re kind of transitioning into. We’ve really worked hard on trying to shorten our passing lanes to eliminate the silly turnovers that lead to other points.”

The Lady Panthers will look to get back in the win column Friday against Farragut High School, but Smith knows it will be a challenge.

“Farragut’s just long, lean and shoot the ball really well, very athletic and play the floor well,” he said. “They’re just very, very talented and are probably one of the top three teams in our district. It’ll be a challenge for us because we’re outgunned at every position and down one player that’s got to sit out one game and one that decided not to play. We’ve got to learn quick.”