THE Jefferson girls — a program saddled with injuries the past few seasons — have missed out on the state tournament the last four years. But a Lady Dragons team that’s near full-strength this year hopes to be drought-breakers.
“The one team goal we’ve made this year is to be back in the state tournament,” coach Jason Gibson said. “That’s something that I hope our kids are striving for everyday. We’ve had some close calls the last couple of years.”
Jefferson, 15-10 a year ago, welcomes back its top three scoring options from last year — senior guard Skylar Evanson, sophomore guard Kellie Goza and sophomore post player Bailey Boyd, whose season ended early last year with a knee injury.
“I think we could potentially be a dangerous team when we are fully healthy,” Gibson said.
The Lady Dragons possess a big weapon in Evanson, an outside scoring threat who Gibson said can play at the college level. Meanwhile, Goza could really open things up for Jefferson with a big year, according to the coach.
In the post, Boyd provides a big-time presence in the paint when healthy, often commanding a double-team, and is perhaps the second-best shooter on the team, according to Gibson. Boyd, however, will be eased back into the season to not risk another injury to her knee. That will mean more minutes and possibly some starts from senior Briana Whatley.
At small forward, junior Sarah Wood continues to improve her skills and her outside shooting, earning a start in Jefferson’s scrimmage. Senior Rachel Goza, the team’s leading rebounder last year, could also start at small forward.
One of Jefferson’s biggest keys to a successful run is at point guard where junior Jakeia Wilson takes over.
Wilson is, however, competing for playing time with sophomore Jordan Phillips, who was a surprise in preseason camp, and freshman Brittany Boyd (Bailey’s sister). Brittany is also recovering from a knee injury.
The Lady Dragon backups in the backcourt include junior guards Tristan McGarity and Olivia Jones. Reserves in the front court are sophomore center Dralynn Vaugh, who is the tallest player and possesses potential, and Jaclyn Coleman, an athletic small forward who had a strong preseason camp. Ashley Boyd, also small forward, brings athleticism and versatility to the floor.
Another big key to Jefferson’s season is how it performs under the boards.
“The key for us is going to be, defensively, can we rebound the ball?” Gibson said. “We’re not a very big team.”
Jefferson’s tough non-region schedule does it no favors but should prepare the team for its Region 8-AA South slate. The Lady Dragons finished third in the subregion last year, and Gibson expects a dogfight again this year in Region 8-AA South. That goes for games against 8-AA North as well.
“I think our region is brutal,” Gibson said.
Still, Jefferson’s goals are to push for a subregion championship, earn a high seeding for the region tournament and end the program’s hiatus from the state tournament.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us, but, again, I’m excited about our kids,” Gibson said.