Lower than normal turnout for tryouts didn’t bother Lady Blue Jays head coach Tim Testa after three days of workouts before naming the 2020-21 team.
“It's not the deepest freshman class, and usually the majority of your kids trying out are freshmen,” he said. “So, our numbers are low, but I think we have the right girls out. I don't think that there's anybody walking the halls at Junction City High School that we really are upset that we missed out on. I think we got the right kids, so it's going to be interesting. We're going to have to put together some different lineups and some different groups of kids that we probably wouldn't have, if we had more numbers. But again, we've got the best 21 girls that we have at Junction City High School and we are super excited about them.”
The team will feature senior leaders Andrea Davis, Mellana Davis, Lucy Rivera and Dorian Robinson, all of whom got extended playing time throughout last season.
“With us having those four as our senior class, I think that we have the potential for some really, really good leadership,” Testa said. “And I only say potential, just because they haven't been in in the role of seniors but four days. But, I know, that we've leaned heavily on those four girls in the past. At multiple points in time last year, we had those four girls on the floor together anyways. And now for us to be able to have them on the floor, maybe not all at the same time or whatever combinations we have, but to have them all on the floor at practice, all in the locker room every single time, now being the voice and the face of the program. I'm very excited to have those four girls there, they're going to help us out a lot.”
The team will also rely on players like Jayda Harris, Jada Nabus, Ava DeGuzman and Mariah Parrott to build off their 2019-20 career and step up to leadership roles on the team.
“I think that the seniors will probably do a majority of the vocal leading of the chants and leading the girls to really make sure that they're talking as a program,” Testa said. “I think that Jayda Harris is going to be huge for us as a performance leader. Jayda doesn't talk much. She's kind of a reserved young lady, but we expect a ton from Jada this year. And anybody that's ever watched us play or practice, knows that Jada is not afraid to go 100 miles an hour and lead from the front physically. If the seniors are the vocal leaders, then Jayda is definitely going to be one of our leaders in the effort and toughness area.”
The Lady Jays secured three wins last season, the first in several years, and that will give them confidence going into bigger games, Testa said. But it will still be tough as they face ranked opponents. He said the team will be able to compete, if they go in with the right mindset.
“I really want to play Manhattan this year,” Testa said. “I think, that as a school, Junction City has a complex against Manhattan. And, I think, even as a community, as athletes, as everybody I think we have a complex against that town. I think we have a complex against that high school, and our goal as a team, obviously, is to compete well with everybody. But we know now, since we've learned that we are capable of winning some, we want to start beating teams that we're not quote supposed to beat. We want to compete with the Manhattans, we want to compete with the Topeka Highs, the Topeka Seamans and not just look forward to the game that everybody thinks we can win. We want to believe that we can win against teams supposedly bigger and better than us.
“I don't know if we're quite deep enough or talented enough to really go out and just put it to, again the Topeka Highs or the Topeka Seamans of the world,” he added. “They're not ranked number one in 6A and 5A for no reason. But what we've talked about already, even on day one, is we don't want to just be the team that thinks they can beat Topeka West and Highland Park. We want to believe that we can go into those games and compete. And I think a lot of, in the past we have thought that we can beat both teams, and that led to us getting roped by 40 and 50. Because we go into it thinking, 'Oh we're going to lose.' And then it makes it easier to quit on yourself and your teammates if you already had that in your mind.”
While the season will be a challenging one, if able to compete, the lack of height this year will be outweighed by the speed and athleticism already displayed, Testa said.
“We're not very big, losing Savannah Adams and Madison Escobar makes you really small, really quick,” he said. “But what we did lose in size, I think we gained in speed. When you're starting a girl like Mellana Davis at the five (spot), and she can run the way she can run, I think we'll be able to take advantage of some teams that might have bigger, slower girls. I think we will beat them in transition a little bit and our bigs this year — Mellana and Dorian Robinson — are two of the toughest kids we've had in a long, long time. So, I'm not worried about them guarding anybody. It should be a good year to watch them.”
The unknown factor this year, is the Kansas State High School Activities Association decision in the next few weeks on delaying the winter sports season. Testa said he has talked to the girls about the rumors, but gave them solid advice when it comes to the season.
“We haven't talked very much specifics with the girls,” he said. “Obviously, we've talked about it as a staff. What we've been telling the girls is to just listen to what the coaches are saying and listen to what the athletic department is saying. Obviously, I've seen the same stuff from KSHSAA, some of the girls have, but we're just trying to ask them just to stick with us and just trust us in what we're telling them. And again, trust whatever Junction City High School is saying, not what everybody in the community is saying. At the end of the day, there's not a lot of people who can really answer those questions. So, we've just asked the girl to focus on us, and focus on becoming better players. If and when we play, we want to be ready to go.”
The Lady Jays are slated to start their season Dec. 4 with a road trip to Topeka to take on Topeka Seaman with tip off at 6 p.m. The team will host Topeka High Dec. 8 for their home opener.