On the South Decatur girls basketball team’s first day of practice, first-year head coach Jessica McConnell wore a Jac-Cen-Del Sectional championship shirt.
McConnell, who used the shirt as a motivational device for her team, said she believes South will snap JCD’s five-year sectional championship streak and return to Decatur County with its own trophy.
“We have a good chance to win sectional,” said McConnell, a 2004 South Ripley graduate. “Next year, when we win sectional, I want to wear our shirt.”
The journey began before last school year ended. McConnell was eager to meet the team and begin open gym during the summer. The second-year Kindergarten teacher, who played on a regional-champion team that also won three straight sectionals, wants to relate her playing experience with the Lady Cougars this winter. She was the Raiders’ team captain and won what she said was called the “Tiny Tim Award,” given to the best basketball player in Ripley County. She also played volleyball and softball.
“I want to show that I’ve experienced what they’re going through,” she said.
McConnell sees the same talent and abilities in the Lady Cougars, led by seniors Courtney Billinsgley, Ashley Johannigman and Julia Miller.
“The seniors have gotten stronger (mentally and physically), and they’re willing to do what they need to do,” said McConnell. “They can do it.”
The seniors have been mainstays in an up-and-down South program. The Lady Cougars went 6-15 after playing for three head coaches in the previous four seasons. Following a winning season, last year’s team struggled with just eight players without a junior varsity team.
The depth has doubled this year, with 16 girls now dressing for two teams.
Miller and Johannigman will play forward, while Johannigman will have a chance to set the school record for assists. McConnell said Johannigman is 30 assists from the mark and will be given opportunities to reach it.