First-year Bethlehem Christian Academy head girls’ varsity basketball coach Jason Smith will have a mostly young and inexperienced team to start off the season, but he believes there is potential for the team to improve steadily, and he’s hoping that his familiarity with most of the players will prove to be a plus as the Knights progress throughout the season.
Smith, who has mainly a middle school coaching background, takes over the varsity girls’ program after serving as the junior-varsity boys’ and middle school girls’ coach last season and the middle school boys’ coach the year before that. Prior to his time with BCA, he was on the coaching staff of the middle school boys’ team at Athens Christian and also spent 12 years coaching in Michigan.
When BCA administration decided earlier this year to keep varsity head coaching positions among faculty members, that opened up the opportunity for Smith to lead the Knights. And he was set to get his first look at the 2020-21 squad in competition Tuesday, Dec. 1, as the Knights played host to Tallulah Falls.
“We’re definitely, as they say, ‘a little green behind the ears’ coming in,” Smith said Monday, Nov. 30, ahead of Tuesday’s season-opener. “There’s lots for the team to learn, but having coached at the middle school level, I think that should be beneficial for us in building a solid foundation. I’ve already got a relationship established with most of the players, so that should help in getting everyone on the same page. And we’ve got pretty good numbers at the lower levels, so hopefully this year can be the beginnings of a solid program going forward.”
In addition to losing five seniors off a team that went 10-15 last season, BCA is also having to compensate for the loss of a top scoring threat in junior guard Jadyn Goddard, who is recovering from a knee injury and will miss the entire season. Goddard, a speedster nearly carried the Knights to an upset of Deerfield-Windsor last season in the first round of the GISA Class AAA playoffs, scoring 29 points in a 50-45 loss.
“That’s a big loss for us because (Goddard) definitely would have given us more versatility,” said Smith, who will look to Brooke Peevy, a senior with extensive varsity experience, to step in at point guard in place of Goddard. Fellow senior Autumn Shepherd also saw significant minutes for the Knights last year and can play multiple positions on the court.
“Those are going to be our two leaders, and they both have a good understanding of the game,” Smith said. “Brooke is a good ball handler and good shooter, and Autumn is more of a shooting guard but can also go into the post a bit.”
The Knights will look to senior Clancy Bourbeau, who they pulled from the school’s softball team who Smith said has been “picking up the game quickly,” to anchor the middle, while sophomore Sydney Harrison is a returning varsity player.
Even with Goddard’s absence, Smith like his team’s speed overall, and he said they’ll try to take advantage of that by playing fast and pressuring opposing defenses.
“We want to get out and run and work to get some good, open shots,” Smith said. “There is a lot to learn, and we’re still going to be focusing heavily on teaching spacing. We’ll know more about where we’re at (after Tuesday).”
Following the season-opener, the Knights have five more games listed on their schedule before opening Region 4-AAA play Jan. 8 at Westfield School in Perry.
“It’s a pretty diverse schedule, and there will be a good opportunity for us to maybe play some stiffer competition,” Smith said. “At times we may be outmatched, but the question will be whether we can really come together and play as a team. I think that’s every coach’s goal, to keep everybody together moving forward. There are going to be some games where it could be really rough, but that shows us where we need to get to.
“It should be an exciting season. Our goal is to make it fun for the girls, but also to be more competitive. I’m looking forward to the challenge myself.”