The 2018-19 campaign was a strange one for the Lady Bulldogs and Head Coach Clay Reeves. The team was loaded with talent, won 20 games, and reached the state semi-finals in post-season play. By most measures that would be a successful year, and it was, but Coach Reeves was not there to share it with his players.
Instead, the seven-time state champion coach was out-of-commission after taking medical leave less than a month into the regular season. Filling in for Reeves was boys’ assistant coach Matt Bryant, an experienced former head coach who won a state championship in Oklahoma before moving to Greenwood.
Bryant and the Lady Bulldogs did a remarkable job under tough circumstances and should be commended, but no one doubts the impact of losing a head coach like Clay Reeves, who won four of his seven state titles at Greenwood.
Healthy again, Reeves is back this season along with a wealth of talented players who should compete for a conference championship and make a deep run in the playoffs. It should be another fun season for GHS girls’ basketball.
Released by his doctor, Reeves returned to work after nearly four months and began coaching again shortly after spring break. Earlier this week he talked about his absence, his players, and their prospects for the coming season. This will be his 17th year at Greenwood and 32nd overall as a head coach.
Asked about how he handled missing last season, Reeves said, “At the age I am now I knew what I had to do health-wise. When you’re younger you think you’re invincible. But as you get older you realize your health is one of the most important things.
“It was very hard,” he admitted. “It wasn’t relaxing. First, I like to coach, and I missed coaching the team, and then just being worried about [my] health in general. But all that got taken care of. My health is great, and our team was in [good] hands with Coach Bryant and [assistant] coach [Ryan] Lensing. So everything turned out great.
“There was nothing I could do about [my absence], and I kept that in perspective,” said Reeves. “It made me realize that I love coaching. It’s a job, but to me it’s a hobby. It’s something I love doing every day because I enjoy it so much.
“I didn’t attend any games,” added the coach. “I would occasionally watch some of our games that were live streamed or watch them later on Hudl, our video service, after the game was over and I knew who won and I didn’t have to stress about every possession.” Reeves spoke further of his replacement, Coach Bryant.
“He’s done a great job in his career. He’s won state championships and been in big games his whole career. He knows basketball, and one of his strengths is dealing with students. He and our team and Coach Lensing did a great job.”
Reeves then turned his focus on this year’s team, a squad loaded with experience and talent.
“We’ve got a lot of players coming back,” he said. “We’ve lost Kyiah [Julian], Susannah Stein, and Angela Price,” referring to his two graduated seniors and the injured Price.
“Angela was [hurt] during the summer and she’s been out all fall. We keep our fingers crossed that she can be back at some point during the season. The #1 thing is her health. She’s a big part of our team, but she’s signed to play softball at Kansas. Getting her ready for college is big for her future.
“They were really tough players,” continued Reeves, reminiscing about Julian, a four-year starter, and Stein, one of his top players off the bench. Both girls were known for their toughness, rebounding, and overall fighting spirit.
“We’ve got a lot of skill,” said Reeves of his current roster. “We’ve got some really good basketball players, but those are things we’ve got to make sure we do.”
Among this season’s key returnees is post-player Harley Terry, one of five seniors on the team. She also played as a freshman with the varsity and is the daughter of GHS play-by-play announcer Tim Terry.
“This is her fourth year and that makes a big difference,” said the coach. “We count on her for defense, rebounding, and going after loose balls. She scored well the other night in our benefit game and hopefully she’s going to help in that area too.” At 5’11” Terry is one of the tallest players on the GHS roster.
Also around six feet is fellow senior and fourth-year varsity player Jaelin Glass. Listed as a big guard, Glass has the size to make her hard to defend, and the speed and reach to be a major disrupter on defense.
“She looks like she is still growing,” said Reeves. “I expect good things from her. She’s getting a lot more confidence and does a great job on defense. She’s able to get her hands on a lot of balls and create plays for us. She’s also shooting the ball well and attacking well. She’s got the size to be able to rebound.”
Reeves then turned his attention to a quartet of talented junior guards, all of which came up as freshmen and reached the state championship game in 2018. They include Haven Clements, Ally Sockey, Kinley Fisher, and Shea Goodwin.
“Haven is a great rebounder,” said the coach. “She goes after every loose ball. She also does a good job handling the ball and scoring. She can [defend] a guard or a post [player] and do a little bit of everything.
“Allie gets after it,” he continued. “She’s a really good athlete and does a great job. She handled the ball a ton for us during the [off-season]. That’s gotten a lot better and her three-point shooting has improved a lot. She’s improved every part of her game.”
Ally is the daughter of GHS head softball coach Ronnie Sockey and his starting shortstop. She has verbally committed to play softball for the University of Arkansas when her prep career is finished.
“Kinley [Fisher] has done a great job,” said Coach Reeves of one of his best scorers. “She continues to handle the ball a lot and be a decision-maker for us. She’s great at creating her own shots. She’s a really good scorer herself and a good playmaker at getting other people shots.”
The other third-year junior guard is Shea Goodwin. “Shea is doing a great job,” said Reeves. “Her defense is really good and she does a good job rebounding. She’s an excellent ball handler and playmaker. She’s really good at getting to the rim and we’re encouraging her to shoot a little more herself.”
Another player who should offer significant help off the bench is senior Maggie Rozell. “Maggie is ready for a big senior year,” said Reeves. “We need a little more rebounding from her.”
With so much talent and experience – basically returning five starters – among his front-line players, it may be hard for some of the younger girls to find playing time with the varsity squad, but there are a few candidates said Reeves.
“We’ve got a [few] sophomores with a lot of experience in junior high that are fundamentally sound and highly skilled,” said the coach, referring to Megan Gray, Abby Summit, and freshman Mady Cartwright.
“[Mady] moved up and her sister (Kaila) played here for three years. She’s still growing and has length and can play all five positions.” As an eighth-grader, Cartwright was a key player for the ninth-grade girls last season, a team that won the River Valley Conference and the regional championships.
“Our [team] chemistry is getting better,” said the coach. “We’ll make a lot of improvement after we play a few games. We’ve gone about as far as we can in practice. They’ve been playing against each other for six months. They’re ready to play someone else. Then we can figure out what we need to do differently.
“We won’t be the tallest team on the floor very often, but we have some of the most skilled players,” he continued. “We’ll be athletic with good speed. We’re good ball handlers and really good shooters. We’ve just got to see who’s going to step up and take over the toughness and rebounding in the lane.”
Asked about the schedule and the competition this season, the coach said, “Just based on what I know, the conference is usually really competitive. Little Rock Christian won the conference [and state] last year, Vilonia was second and we were third. My guess is those are the top three teams in our conference [this year].
“I would not be surprised if the state champion came out of the West,” he agreed. “I’m sure I’m leaving some teams out – there’s Nettleton and Jonesboro – but I think that’s a good place to start.”
As for his team’s strength of schedule, it’s one of the most difficult in the state. “We always try to play the toughest ones,” he said. “We play Bryant and Lake Hamilton next week. We play Van Buren. We play Bentonville, the state runner-up in 6A. We play the Tournament of Champions in Fort Smith. We play Northside, which was the 6A state champion. We play Farmington (4A) and Jacksonville (7A), then we start conference.
“We want to put ourselves in every [possible] situation before we get to where the games start counting. A lot of those games I mentioned, it’s 50/50. There’s some where we’ve got to play our best to even have a chance, but that’s what makes you a better player and better team.
“[Losing] doesn’t bother me at all, because I know I want to be one of the last ones playing. In all my 32 years as a head coach we’ve played a lot of teams in state tournaments who had better records, but we were able to win the games.
“I could make a schedule where we’d be undefeated going into conference every year, if that’s what I chose to do,” he said. “We’d all feel pretty good about it, but that’s not going to get us where we need to go.
“Two years ago we started 0-4 and we get to the state championship game. So we just play the best [competition] we can and keep improving and competing.”
With so much returning talent and experience, and with Coach Reeves healthy and back at the controls, the Lady Bulldogs are primed for another great season. GHS fans are no doubt excited about varsity girls’ basketball this fall and winter, and with good reason.