GHS girls aiming for third consecutive state title

GHS girls aiming for third consecutive state title

The Greenwood Lady Bulldogs basketball program is in the middle of a great run, having won three of the past four state championships in Class 5A, including the last two in a row. But now they have their sights set on a third consecutive title, which would be the program’s eighth, all under the tutelage of Head Coach Clay Reeves.

Recognized as one of the best girls’ high school coaches in the state, Reeves had taken his GHS teams to state titles in 2010, 2012, 2014-15, 2020, and 2022-23. In addition to those seven, he also won three state championships at Greenland before coming to Greenwood at age 40. Now 60, Reeves is showing no signs of slowing down, and has a talented, experienced lineup returning this season to make another title run.

Former GHS star Mady Cartwright is now starting for the University of Tulsa as a freshman, and another GHS senior starter, Adriana Rusin, also graduated off last year’s championship squad. But three starters return along with two very good youngsters who saw a lot of playing time last season. There was little doubt about who this year’s five starters would be with the return of seniors Anna Trusty, Carly Sexton, Brooklyn Woolsey, junior Izzy Smith, and sophomore Kylah Pearcy.

Now the task is finding complimentary parts off the bench to supplement those five talented and experienced starters. Three games into the season, Reeves has gotten quality minutes from juniors Pate Jones and Jenna Honkala, to mention a couple, but more are needed. As two of the tallest players on the roster, senior Mckenzie Thomas (5’10”) and sophomore Ashlin Rose (5’11”) will likely also be called on to provide some additional size against certain opponents or help in case of foul trouble.

The Lady Bulldogs are officially 1-1 so far, losing to Vilonia, 68-63, the team they defeated back in March in the state championship game, before winning 65-44 last Thursday night at home at H.B. Stewart Arena over Class 6A Fayetteville. They also played and won a pre-season benefit game against Gravette, 78-35. As usual, their non-conference schedule is loaded with tough opponents, including several from the 6A classification, like Fayetteville. “We’ve got our hands full, but that’s the way I want it, because I know what the competition is like down the road.”

The GHS roster has five seniors including starters Trusty, Sexton, and Woolsey, along with Thomas and Kaci Dedmon. The eight juniors on the squad are Halie Key, Keelie Dolan, Piper Pitts, Jenna Honkala, Hailey Spearman, Izzy Smith, Pate Jones, and Alissa Gray. The seven sophomores include Ashlin Rose, Journey Clements, Trinity Spicer, Addison Bridges, Honor Zuress, Eva Booth, and Kylah Pearcy. Players from all three classes will make major contributions this season.

Against Vilonia in the state title game last March, Anna Trusty led Greenwood with 17 points, five steals, and four rebounds. Carley Sexton had 13 points and Brooklyn Woolsey contributed 12 points with five steals and four boards. Of his three returning senior starters, Coach Reeves had high praise, but also suggested they have more to give.

“They’ve been there and been through the battles of practice and the games, and they know what it takes [to win],” said their coach. “They are the leaders, and they have to step up and show by example on the floor and encourage and drive the other players to get better. And when things aren’t going [well] they’ve got to make plays. I want them to do what they did last year, but now they have to do a little bit more because of the players we lost. Everybody has to do more, and sometimes that takes them out of their comfort zone. But we’re going to get there. The chemistry will get better.

“We lost players. We’ve got returning players. We’ve got some players moving up, and all of them are contributing and helping. We’ve just got to put all of them together and build this team. We want to be the best we can be, and with this team we have a chance to be one of the best overall [in Arkansas] and in our classification, in conference and in the state. We just need to keep everybody healthy and improving, and we’re going to have a great shot, and that’s all we can ask. It doesn’t mean we will win it, but we have a shot,” added the coach.

Besides Trusty, Sexton, and Woolsey, Reeves’ other two starters are Izzy Smith and Kylah Pearcy. Smith will be handling the basketball at the point this season and is an excellent outside shooter as well. Pearcy profiles as the team’s second leading scorer behind Trusty and comes from GHS basketball royalty. Her parents, Dexter and Chelsea, both played for Greenwood in the early 2000s. In fact, Chelsea started for Coach Reeves for three years and Dexter is currently the varsity boys’ assistant basketball coach. He also serves as the school’s head tennis coach.

“She’s a great competitor,” Reeves said of Smith. “She’s hard to keep up with when she’s handling the ball. She plays great defense, and I expect her to shoot a lot. She hasn’t shot a lot in these [early] games, and that’s what she did last year. But she will become more aggressive. We’re expecting her to pick up the scoring a little bit.

Of Pearcy, Reeves said, “She’s extremely athletic and loves playing the game. She’s a playmaker and we’ve got to have a couple playmakers on the team that can make plays for themselves and create plays for their teammates. She’s really good at driving [to the basket] and kicking the ball out and she’s shooting well from the three-point line. We need her to be a creator off the dribble.”

Reeves also talked about his first two players off the bench, juniors Jenna Honkala and Pate Jones. “Jenna’s biggest strength is defense, rebounding, and toughness. She knows that’s what she has to do to help us the most. She’s scored about four points each of the last two games, and that’s a plus. Pate is a really good athlete. She’s fast and we expect her to pick up the speed of the game [defensively] and put pressure on the ball and get the ball quickly up the floor [on offense]. And her scoring is improving, which helps her get on the floor more.”

The coach also mentioned other reserve players, including senior Mckenzie Thomas. “We depend on her for post defense. Piper Pitts is a good three-point shooter,” he added. “She knows the wing and has experience coming back from last year. Those are probably the [top] nine players. But with practices and junior varsity games, we’ll be able to play more kids as the season goes along.

“Ashlin Rose is about a six-foot sophomore and is getting a lot better,” said Reeves when asked about some of his tenth graders. “We need her height and length, and she has a great attitude and works hard. She moved from Lavaca during the summer and she’s picking up our system pretty well. Her mom is a teacher here, and that worked out great.

“Journey Clements is a sophomore guard that played a lot in junior high. Addison Bridges is a sophomore that’s playing at the post and is picking up the game really well. Trinity Spicer and Hailey Spearman have played well in the JV games. I’m sure I’m leaving somebody out, but I can say something good about all the players on our roster. We’ve got great players.

As for the chief competition in the 5A West conference this season, the highly successful coach admits that he’s mainly focused on his own team more so than their opponents, all of which are usually chasing the Lady Bulldogs in the league standings. Nevertheless, Reeves said a few teams have strong lineups coming back from last year and should be better.

“With Van Buren and Alma being close, we know a little more about them,” he said. “But the other teams are two to three hours away, and we don’t know much about their junior high programs, because they are so far away. But I know Russellville and Van Buren have most of their players back. Mountain Home has all its players back, so they will be better. But we know we’ve got to fight every night. This team has to make a name for itself. This is not last year or the year before. It means something with ‘Greenwood’ on your jersey. Nobody that plays us is overlooking us. Everybody wants to beat Greenwood.”

As for the amazing success of his program at Greenwood, Reeves is predictably modest, giving most of the credit to the players and their families as well as the district’s administration and overall community support. “It starts at home with the parents allowing and encouraging their daughters to play sports,” he said. “It takes a lot for parents to get kids to practices and games from the time they are four or five years old, for whatever sport it is. It takes a lot from the parents and the kids have to want to stay and keep playing.

“I also give a tremendous amount of credit to the travel team coaches, the boys’ and girls’ clubs, church leagues, and people who do lessons. Our kids do all those things and that helps a lot. And Coach [Amy] Hardy and Coach [Lundon] Lensing do a great job in junior high, and all that stuff leads up to high school. That’s what makes my job great and makes us a successful program,” added the coach, who is still very much in love with his job.

“I look at the players we have now and the players we have coming up all the way down into some of the elementary grades. I know what we have, and the future here is great, whether I’m here or someone else is here, it’s going to be a successful program, with the players and community support we have. When it’s time [to retire] it will be time. You’ll know when you know,” said the coach. “But that doesn’t go through my mind a whole lot. I love doing what I’m doing. I don’t have any hobbies besides this. This is my hobby. It’s not a job to me. It was fortunate that I came here.”

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