The basketball season has just started and the York girls are looking to continue down the road to rebuilding the girls’ program to where it has been in the past.
Coach Paula Blackwell has a young team again this year, but she has a team leader in Region 3-4A preseason player of the year Carrie Lee Lancaster, the only senior on the team.
“She is a hard worker and sets a good example for the younger players,” said Blackwell. “She is respected by her teammates, and her selection as preseason player of the year show how much she is respected by the coaches in the region.”
Blackwell is no stranger to success. Her 2009 York team was a region champion, and in 2011 her Cougars were region co-champions. The past two seasons have been difficult, primarily because of a lack of numbers on the varsity level.
Blackwell had to bring up younger players from the junior-varsity team to fill spots on the varsity, and that caused a lack of experience on the lower level. Two years of working hard and struggling to win might be ready to pay off this year.
With Lancaster, a four-year starter, leading the way, York will rely on four sophomores as starters. Makala Love, Meg McGarity, Corri Peeler, and Emalee Smith all played on the varsity last year.
Blackwell will also use four players as backups. Mahoganey Setzer is the only junior on the team, while Emily Mitchell, Heather Pumphrey, and Akeisha McClure are sophomores.
“We now have 22 ninth and 10th graders in our program, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for what we started two years ago when our numbers were down,” said Blackwell.
She has capable assistants in Arsonia Stroud, Cristi Kemp and Leigh Zeigler. Stroud coached the varsity prior to Blackwell. Kemp has been Blackwell’s assistant for 12 years. Zeigler coaches the junior-varsity team.
Lancaster started as a freshman on the region co-champion team. Since then the wins have been few and far between, but that has not stopped her from working hard and improving her game.
“Basketball prepares you physically and mentally,” said Lancaster. “I am disappointed when we don’t win, but that has not stopped my enthusiasm. The past two years this team has worked hard. We have not been so much focused on winning, but with the process of building the program back up.”
Lancaster gets her inspiration and passion for the sport from her mother, Debbie, who was an standout performer in basketball and volleyball at Clemson.
“She has been my role model,” said Lancaster. “When I get down sometimes because we have not won, she will tell me things I have done well. Both of my parents have been very encouraging since I started playing.”
Lancaster, who is second in her class academically, plans on attending either Wellesley or Smith. Her college plans also include playing basketball.
“I have always had high standards for myself in the classroom,” she said. “These are foundation years for my future and I want to hold myself accountable.”
Lancaster knows that Blackwell looks to her for leadership, and she wants to do a good job.
“All it takes it for one of us to do something to get us going,” said Lancaster. “Sometimes it is me, but we are a team. We believe in each other, and we have each other’s back. I think that is important.”
When the numbers went down a couple of years ago, Blackwell could have packed up and left. She stayed and worked to get the program back to where it was just a few seasons ago.
“These kids have been through a lot the past two years, but the effort has been worth it,” said Blackwell. “The players can see the pieces falling into place.”
Blackwell, who is starting her 12th season as head coach at York, feels like she has found a home.
“I am a very loyal person and I made a commitment to York when I signed on that dotted line,” said Blackwell. “This is where God wants me. The administration has been very supportive. I love the people. It's a neat place to live and work, and I plan on retiring here.”
Lancaster will move on after this year, but she knows what has been done the past years is setting York’s girls’ basketball program up for a brighter future.
“Coach Blackwell has taught me a lot about priorities,” said Lancaster. “I look at where we were two years ago, and where we are now. It is a work in progress. This team believes we have improved.”