MATTOON — Lake Land women's basketball coach Dave Johnson has the same expectations every season, no matter what his roster looks like. He wants the team to win at least 20 games, compete for the Region 24 championship, which allows the Lady Lakers to compete for a spot in the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
This season he hopes to accomplish those goals with a young roster. The Lady Lakers graduated their top five scorers from last season's 19-12 team, including 10-8 in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference, and only returns one player that averaged at least three rebounds a game last season.
Sophomores Koty Crowder, a Charleston graduate, and Abby Bush are the two players with the most experience returning. Plus Bush is still working her way back from an offseason injury. So Lake Land will be a bit inexperienced to start the season.
"I do think we have a very talented team. A lot of people would consider us inexperienced with Koty and Abby being our most experienced players back," Johnson said. "It's something we have to overcome early, but I think we have a lot of talented, especially in our freshman class. We can improve and improve throughout the season and be where we want to be by the end of it.
"I am excited. This group is extremely coachable and put in the work in the preseason. We will play hard, I know that. It may take us a few games because of the youth."
Even though all of the players are still getting used to each other and Johnson's style of play, he feels like the team is meshing together well so far, especially after seeing the team play in a few exhibition games.
"We were quite successful in our exhibition games and we improved week to week in October. It's nice to see that much improvement in a short period of time," Johnson said. "So far from what I've seen in the exhibition season, we've done a nice job on offense. My biggest concern is our defense. We play man-to-man a little differently. It's still a work in progress and I think it's getting better."
Crowder is the top scorer back from last season after averaging 5.2 points per game. Crowder's biggest moment was in the Region 24 game against Lincoln Land when she hit a couple of 3-pointers late to help LLC win the game.
"Her leadership is really good and her ball handling has improved along with her three-point shooting," Johnson said. "Without her, we don't win that region game against Lincoln Land. She can handle that situation and that pressure to perform."
After Crowder, Johnson feels he has depth at the guard position with the number of freshmen the team has this season.
"We have about seven different people we can play at guard and three will play predominately," Johnson said. "Avery Jackson has been the leading scorer in the exhibition season. She will play off-guard and was a point guard in high school, so playing off-guard will fit her game a little better and take the pressure off handling the ball.
"Koty and Aislinn Parish will be handling the point position and the other guard spot will be a variety with Alex Von Kamecke, Jaycie Roy, Callie Williams or Haley Gregg. It will depend on what we are doing."
Lake Land lost most of its depth at the post. Dymond Randle led the team with 7.4 rebounds per game and graduated, along with Samantha Thompson and Ashanti Brock. Johnson said he has a number of players who can grab more than a few boards this season instead of just relying on one person.
"Gabrielle Staub has rebounded well and Jamie Sandschaefer had a double-double in the last exhibition. Mariah Spurgeon has improved her rebounding this year. Zyah Burnett has done a good job," Johnson said. "I do think we are going to have more of a spread rebounding pattern."
Looking at GRAC play, Johnson hasn't seen many of the teams in the exhibition season, but he expects the GRAC to be deep again.
"Wabash Valley will be good again. John A. Logan has a couple of players back and seem to be athletic. Kaskaskia looks like they have put in the Grinnell system. SWIC has a new coach and they look bigger," Johnson said. "We would certainly love to be toward the top, but until someone beats Wabash, they are probably the favorite right now."