Three weeks into preseason practice and the work goes on. That's about the way Carol Ross sums up the Lady Rebels' efforts so far.
Senior leadership is always a key, and Ross sees that emerging. Depth will be important and Ross and her coaches are trying to develop more of that.
The third-year UM head coach says she is close to a starting lineup, but she's not quite ready to divulge it just yet.
The Lady Rebs host Athletes In Action Thursday at 7 p.m. in their first public display for 2005-06.
"Anytime you lose as many impact seniors as we did, it's always going to be a little slower than you would hope or want," said Ross, mentioning the loss of last year's senior class - Amber Watts, Amber Terrell, Carletta Brown, and Liz Cansdale. "Even though we've got a lot of returners back, they've all got to step up and play bigger roles. So it's going slower than we want, and I'm an impatient person. That's not a great combination because I'm pushing hard and we're trying to find out our personality and identity."
Ross says this time of year is filled with implementing a lot of what the team will do throughout the course of the season.
"We're working on our offense, but I'm going to always be slanted more toward defense," said the former Lady Rebel player. "We're trying to get a defensive personality and identity. So we're working hard on our matchup, we're working hard on our man. We're working on presses and trying to get some things ready. Because not only does the season open quickly, it opens brutally for us. We have to be ready to step into Top 25 form right off the bat."
Ross is certainly correct about that. The Lady Rebs' first five games are Rice in Oxford, at Clemson, Texas Tech in Oxford, and vs. Villanova and Rhode Island in a tournament in Kingston, R.I.
Offensively Ross says her team may have a slightly different look this year, or at least the capability of it.
"We'll run motion, and we haven't run motion that much," she said. "I still expect us to play really fast, but if we need to slow it down and make the extra pass, then we will. We really didn't have an offense (in the past) that allowed us to use that. I hope we don't ever use it. But if we need to use it to compete, then we will."
Ross says she always expects first-year players from the previous season to make a move into year two. This year she wants no less.
"I always expect a huge jump between freshmen and sophomore years," she said. "Lindsay Roy has made a huge jump. Dee Forrest has made a huge jump. Jada Mincy has made a huge jump. That transition and welcome to college year is over. They're ready to surge forward, and they've done that."
But some of the older players continue to impress as well.
"Armintie Price is still playing at a high level. Ellen Buchanan continues to bring her grit and experience. You don't ever want to count on freshmen but you hope they can help. We're hoping (6-3 center) Shawn Goff and (6-2 forward) Brandi Tipton can be as big a factor as they can be, if they're ready for it."
Carla Bartee, a 6-foot forward, is a member of the Lady Rebel team in her second season. The Wayne County High product transferred from Western Kentucky prior to last season, sat out last year here, and is now ready to play as a sophomore.
"One, Bartee will bring fearlessness. Two, she will bring aggressiveness. Three, she will bring instant offense. She never saw a shot she didn't like. She has the ability to lift the team with her energized offense."
Ross says the preseason has gone well and that she has made sure to push the team daily.
"I've been harder on this group, because the success we've had here has been because of hard work. I don't want them to forget that. What we did last year has nothing to do with this year's team. They have their own burden to get back to March Madness. They're going to compete and compete hard and scrap and be nasty competitors when they step on that floor. It doesn't come natural for some of them, so I've had to be fierce and tenacious to get them to play that way.
"I don't know if we're any more talented this year than the first two years here. If our entire signing class had gotten here we would have been. But they're all not here. We're still not eyeballing Tennessee or LSU or a few others that we've actually beaten. So we have to be mean and tough so we can drag them down to our level and eyeball them and whip them. That takes a lot of character, a lot of fierceness on defense and on the boards, and doing the little things to succeed and win. I just have to make this year's team understand that's what got teams the last two years to succeed."
Ross says Lady Rebs progressing
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