Dan Lampe had to do little in the way of motivating his team for preseason practice.
After coming one point shy of reaching the state finals last year, the Lady Raiders were already chomping at the bit to return to the court in an official capacity.
“They were excited to get back,” Lampe said, whose team went 25-7 last season. “They were texting each other ‘we’ve got so-many days (until practice starts).’ They started the countdown around 21 days, I think.”
In actuality, that first day of practice was an after-thought.
Back during the off-season, Lampe opened up the gym everyday after school to his players. Georgia High School Association rules prohibited him from supervising them, so the Lady Raiders took it upon themselves to organize shoot-arounds.
“They showed up 3-4 times a week regularly,” he said. “They would be there until about 5 p.m. So really, starting practice is only just a formality. They’d been coming in and playing pickup games everyday since school started back.”
But it wasn’t just the fun stuff the Lady Raiders took ownership of during the off-season. The girls’ team even organized their own conditioning regimen.
Players making their own selves run?
“It’s illegal for me to do, but they were just all into it,” Lampe said. “They’re excited, they’re organized, they’re ready to go.”
“Our focus has always been the best form of discipline is self-discipline,” he added. “I think they’ve kind of taken that on themselves. They put it on themselves to do push-ups when they miss an easy lay-up.”
Now the hope is that all that self-discipline will pay off as the team looks to regain and pass last year’s glory.
The team certainly has the players to do it. Madison County’s stellar front court is no secret, as it possesses two of the most dominant post players around.
Courtney Freeman, who’s already committed to Appalachian State, has terrorized opposing defenses for three seasons now, while her younger sister, Kayla, broke onto the scene last year. This year, Lampe expects rising sophomore post players Haley Peeples and Elizabeth Whieldon to break out, too, adding more weapons to the Lady Raider lineup.
Also, look for Madison County’s backcourt players — Lauren Smith, Shantydra Arnold, Juvonna Fleming — to have a big year. Guard play caused some matchup problems for Madison County last year, but Lampe said that trio should start coming into its own as juniors.
Overall, Lampe expects his team to be balanced, with the added element of the outside shot.
“The outside shooting is what’s really impressing me early on in practice,” Lampe said. “Just having all the reps they got all off-season seems to really be helping out.”
Still, this is a different team from last year, which will call for players adjusting to new roles. Mainly, they’ll also have to get used to life without forward Tiawanna Allen, who was the heart and soul of the team last year.
“I keep going on and on about T.T. (Allen), but she just led through example,” Lampe said. “She just did everything she could to win and that bled over to everybody else.”
With the season starting this weekend against Brookwood, the goal for a team that nearly played for a championship just eight months ago isn’t hard to decipher.
The Lady Raiders want to get to the state championship game. They want to win it.
“If you polled everybody — ‘What do you plan on doing this year?’ — they’re all going to say win the state championship,” Lampe said.
But Lampe said he’ll try to make sure the team isn’t too preoccupied with that thought.
The coach said he noticed the team carrying weight of expectations last year, especially at region tournament opener against Cedar Shoals at region.
Lampe wants to go about this year with a less stressful approach.
“I felt the girls had a lot of pressure on them, maybe due to some expectations and that kind of stuff … We’ve kind of set long-term goals, but really our main goal is to try to take it one game at a time and just keep improving.”