By: Jim Hayes
Volunteer State Community College Lady Pioneer head basketball coach Otis Key hopes the experience gained during last year’s 8-20 season translates to more wins this year.
The Pioneers kick off their 2018-19 schedule with away games at Cumberland University Nov. 1 and at Snead State Nov. 2. Their home schedule begins with a Nov. 12 game against Northeast Mississippi.
They open conference play the following Saturday, Nov. 17, at home against Jackson State.
The Pioneers return eight sophomores, led by all-conference point guard Aliyah Miller, the nation’s leading three-point shooter, Kelsey Harriman, and Shalaya Armstead who finished second in the conference in rebounding.
“This is the first year that I have had a really good mix of sophomores and freshmen and that all of the kids have been able to contribute,” said Key, a former Harlem Globetrotter player.
“The sophomores went through the fire last year. They are battle tested and they’re kind of bringing the freshmen along,” said Key.
Key said Miller is, “long and with good size.”
“She sees the floor well and handles the ball well and makes good decisions. I think once she trusts her teammates this thing will really go,” said Key.
Miller said this year’s team has more chemistry because of the number of returners.
“Being the starting point guard, you have to lead the team. I have to be the one talking offense and defense and passing the ball,” said Miller.
Harriman said her leadership role will include helping “everyone get into their spots. So far they execute the plays pretty well,” she said.
In 23 games last year, point-guard Miller averaged 10.5 points, 3.5 assists, and 7.5 rebounds per game. Harriman, the other guard, tallied 8.8 points per game on 2.8 three point shots each contest.
“All of our freshmen will come in and make an impact. Once they get their confidence under them they will be instrumental for us,” said Key.
Key said the Pioneers will try to play an up-tempo game this year, utilizing their speed and shooting ability. He said he is hoping for a 20 win season.
“If we win the games we are supposed to, battle in the ones that are 50/50 and maybe steal one or two we shouldn’t, we have a chance at 20 wins,” said Key.
“I think our main strength is that we are quick, we’re fast, we’re long and athletic We’re able to do a lot of things on the defensive end once we learn the concept,” said Key.
“Our weakness is that we are small,” he said. “I don’t have the luxuries of the 6’2 or 6’3s,” said Key. “But I think this team makes up for it in grit and fight and heart.”
“We have a tough schedule this year. I did that on purpose to get these eight seniors seen,” said Key.