State champion Lady Bulldogs primed to retain title

State champion Lady Bulldogs primed to retain title

It’s very early – they’ve only played one game so far – but the reigning state champion Lady Bulldogs are the clear favorites to defend the 5A state title they won earlier this year. The GHS girls also won the 2020 state championship, awarded so when the Covid epidemic caused the cancellation of the title game, forcing them to share the crown with Nettleton High School. In his career, Head Coach Clay Reeves has won nine state championships, three at Greenland and six during his nearly two decades at Greenwood. But a tenth title could await next March for Reeves and his talented Lady Bulldogs.

Tradition, talent, and a lot of returning experience is a powerful combination, and that’s what Reeves has at his disposal for the 2022-23 campaign. He returns four of the five starters who played their way to the state crown last season, plus some capable and experienced bench players, not to mention a talented sophomore group and a couple of promising freshmen. His team is deep, skilled, battle-tested, and ready for another title run. They are led by senior guards Mady Cartwright and junior Anna Trusty, both near six feet tall and prolific scorers.

Cartwright is beginning her fourth season under Reeves after being promoted as a freshman, part of that 2020 state championship squad. At 5’11” and very aggressive with the basketball, she has been nearly unstoppable since her sophomore season, averaging double-digits in scoring while rebounding and playing great defense as well.

Likewise, the 6’0” Trusty played as a freshman and last season proved herself to be equal to Cartwright in scoring ability and basketball acumen. Opponents will have to deal with Greenwood’s twin terrors if they hope to slow down the Lady Bulldogs this season, something that’s been very hard to do in the past. If one doesn’t get you, the other one will, and they have help as well.

Another thing that makes these Lady Bulldogs tough is the supporting cast around the two known stars. Carly Sexton stepped up last March and performed very well in the playoffs, hitting one of the biggest shots of the postseason against West Memphis in the quarterfinals. She scored 47 points in the four playoff games, including games of 16 and 18 points, netting 10 points in the title game against Jonesboro. The junior returns this season with even more confidence and experience.

Adriana Rusin, whose injury allowed Sexton the opportunity to shine in the playoffs, also returns for her senior campaign, and is one of the unsung heroes for Coach Reeves and his team. Not a big scorer, Rusin does all the little things that add up to a winning formula, including her tenacity and positioning near the basket for rebounding and defense.

On most game nights those four girls will be in the starting lineup, likely joined often by junior Brooklyn Woolsey, who scored in double digits in the season-opener last Thursday at Gravette. In fact, she was one of four Lady Bulldogs to reach double figures in scoring against the outclassed Lady Lions. Greenwood won the game going away, 86-34.

Greenwood blew the contest open early, outscoring their hosts 29-6 in the first period and 17-8 in the second stanza. Leading 46-22 at the break, Coach Reeves cleared his bench in the second half, but only after building a 75-26 advantage at the end of three quarters. Mady Cartwright (19), Anna Trusty (17), Brooklyn Woolsey (15), and freshman Kylah Pearcy (12) accounted for most of the GHS scoring. Sophomore Piper Pitts chipped in with seven points as well.

“It was nice to get to play against somebody besides ourselves,” said Coach Reeves when asked about the trip to Gravette. “I know [the players] were excited about that. I thought we shot the ball [well] and we played hard. There were a lot of things we’ve got to work on to correct, but that will happen after every game we play. We shot a good percentage and I think we’ve got really good scorers on this team, and I expect that to happen most of the year. I think we’ve got a good combination of a lot of different types of scorers.” The Lady Bulldogs hit 10 three-pointers in the game.

Coach Reeves and assistant coach Ryan Lensing have five seasoned seniors on their roster this season, led by Mady Cartwright, who also plays softball and just signed a letter of intent to play basketball for the University of Tulsa next season. “Mady has been here four years and has a lot of experience,” said her head coach. “She’s a good all-around player and we expect a lot from her for leadership, having been there before.” The other seniors include Ella Williams, Madelyn Wilkinson, Adriana Rusin, and Ashlyn Butler.

“This is Ella’s third year of high school,” Reeves continued. “She has a lot of experience in practice [going] against players better than the players she goes against in games. Ella’s had a real good summer and fall and improved tremendously. She played a lot the other night and she can play all five positions [on the court].

“Adriana fights for every possession – rebounding, defense, and just getting after it. She’s going to score some for us also, but she takes care of all the little things that I notice as a coach that means a lot for our team,” said Reeves. Wilkinson and Butler are both two-sport athletes who just rejoined the basketball squad after their other seasons concluded.

“Madelyn Wilkinson is a guard who has improved,” added Reeves. “She’s [part of] the state championship cross country [team], and Ashlyn Butler is coming from volleyball. Now that [they are] back full time [they] will continue to improve and get back into the flow [of things].” All five seniors are hoping to end their high school basketball careers with back-to-back state titles.

But to do that they will need help from a talented group of underclassmen, starting with junior star Anna Trusty. The tall guard has excelled since being promoted as a ninth-grader two years ago and is now one of the top players in the state, along with Cartwright. Coach Reeves knows he has a dominant offensive combo with those two players.

“This will be Anna’s third year of high school and she did a great job for us all last year,” he said. “She’s tall, athletic, can score, rebound, and plays good defense. She’s a good all-round player and we expect great things from her also. She finds a way to get the job done. She can hardly touch the ball and still end up with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Whatever it takes, she finds a way to help our team get it done.” The coach then moved on to talk about two more juniors who will likely play big roles this season for the Lady Bulldogs, Carly Sexton and Brooklyn Woolsey.

“Carly and Brooklyn both return from last year. Brooklyn was out the majority of the year with an injury, but she came back towards the end of the year and played some. But she’s played really well and gotten back to where she was before [the injury], like the other night [at Gravette]. Carly had a great state tournament [last season] and she can score. Both of them can beat you off the dribble, but if they are open, it’s generally going to go in. Our players are unselfish. But I think we’ve got a bunch that can score, which is good for us. Our first thing is always to get to the rim, but if they stop that, we’ll pull up and shoot it or kick it out to the next person. We have balanced scoring.

“Mckenzie Thomas is in her second year, and she has come along a lot,” said Reeves of the 5’10” junior forward. “We don’t have many players that just play post, but she does a good job of that, rebounding and keeping us strong inside. There’s going to be games where we need a strong inside presence, so she can take care of things down low.”

As for the youngsters on the team, Reeves and his Lady Bulldogs benefit every year from a strong feeder program on the junior high level led by Head Coach Amy Hardy. The Junior Lady Bulldogs annually compete for their conference championship and send a wave of skilled players up to the varsity level each year.

Among the sophomores Coach Reeves expects to make an early contribution are guards Piper Pitts and Izzy Smith. “Piper has improved greatly and is a really good shooter,” he said. “The other night she went in quickly and went three-for-three, so she can really score. Her mom and dad were good players. I coached against her mom years ago when I was at Greenland.

“Izzy Smith played really well the other night too. She’s a true point guard. She’s the type of player we’re always going to depend on to take care of the ball. She can shoot it and plays hard on defense. Jenna Honkala has been competing and plays hard on defense and rebounds [well], and Pate Jones is a quick, fast, athletic guard.” Those four sophomores have made good early impressions, but there are others who could contribute to the varsity team as the season unfolds.

“We can go really deep and play totally different styles,” said Reeves. “We can play different lineups with different people at different times, based on what we need. I feel really good about moving players around and different lineups. Some of our lineups will be better offensively or defensively, or in rebounding, and throughout the course of a game we’ll try to adjust to what’s working best at the time.”

Coach Reeves also keeps his eyes and options open regarding exceptional freshmen who can help his Lady Bulldogs. Like Mady Cartwright and Anna Trusty before them, two current ninth graders have been promoted early to help this season and to gain experience for seasons to come. They are Kylah Pearcy and Riley Potts.

“Kylah moved up as a ninth grader and she’s a really good scorer and ball handler,” said the coach. “She’s athletic and comes from volleyball, which helps her jumping skills, and she was in double figures the other night. Riley Potts is a 6’2” ninth grader who moved in [from Roland, OK] and she’s improving. But she’s having to pick up on how we do things and the speed of the game. She’ll probably be around the basket a lot this year to give us more inside presence.”

As for the competition this season, Reeves is never afraid to take on the tough teams, especially early before the league schedule starts in January, and this week makes that point loudly. The Lady Bulldogs are competing in the annual Lake Hamilton Classic starting Tuesday night against Little Rock Christian, followed by the Lake Hamilton girls on Thursday and El Dorado on Saturday. “Every game right now we’ve got to play different people and different styles to see what we need to work on,” said Coach Reeves.

The Lady Bulldogs will also host Nashville next Tuesday, November 22nd, in their first home game of the season. The junior varsity game tips off at 4 p.m. followed by the varsity contest, because school is out for the Thanksgiving holiday. Also on tap for the GHS girls are games with Class 6A Conway, always tough Vilonia, the Bentonville Classic, Little Rock Christian again, Little Rock Central, and an out-of-state tournament in Springfield, Missouri, after Christmas.

Among the teams in the 5A West, Reeves said, “A lot of them have returning players. Russellville and Siloam Springs have a lot of returning players and the three of us had a lot of success last year. Mountain Home didn’t have a great record last year, but they do return most of their players. I expect them to be a lot better. I know Harrison and Greenbrier lost a lot of their players, and Alma lost a couple seniors.

“We just try to take care of ourselves,” said Reeves. “Our pre-season schedule before we get to conference prepares us for conference and state. My goal for this year is for this team to win it [again] and be the best we can. If we are, and we’re healthy, and I don’t mess it up, we’re going to have a good shot,” said the highly successful coach with all modesty. For Lady Bulldogs’ fans, it should be fun!

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