BY Harrison Tarr
For the Observer

In the world of sports, few feats are more difficult to come by than repeating championships at the high school level. With constant player turnover and limited control of incoming talent, the odds are often stacked against teams who achieved greatness in years prior. Head coach Dusty Purdue and the Glenwood Gators women’s basketball program are no strangers to the uphill battle they face as reigning champions; that has yet to deter them from coming out swinging in 2021.

Despite producing what Purdue depicted to be sloppy play, the Gators started off their title-defending campaign with three consecutive wins.

“Even sometimes when you don’t play good, an ugly win is better than a good loss any time,” Purdue said.

The orange and green’s ‘ugly wins’ come as little surprise to Purdue, as the 15th-year coach knew that there was going to be a learning curve in the reconstruction of his starting five.

“I knew that we had to fill four spots in the starting lineup for the girls,” Purdue said. “We lost four seniors from the state championship team.”

Purdue is thankful that the transition has been made easier by the return of standout senior guard Jasmyn Burts.

“We returned the key player from that team, which is our point guard Jasmyn Burts,” Purdue said. “I don’t mind saying it out loud. I think she’s the best player in the AISA on the girls side.”

Burts averaged 23 points per contest through her first three outings; because of this, Purdue acknowledges that his squad is not the same when the guard is not on the floor.

“Not having her on the floor has helped us blend better as a team,” Purdue said. “We need to learn to play without her and not always depend on her. It’s still early but we’re figuring it out.”

For the Gators, the growing pains continue when Burts is on the bench; their head coach is pleased with the players’ ability to discover their roles on their own.

“We’re figuring out what our roles are,” Purdue said. “I’m happy with where we’re at right now.”

Development from the rest of the Glenwood squad will be imperative in what the Gators hope to be a title-defending season. Purdue is hopeful that his group will settle into its own and prove that youth is no disadvantage.

“You’ve got who I think is the best player, she’s playing with three sophomores and a junior,” Purdue said. “She’s the only senior starter. We’re just going to try to take the bull by the horns and try to prove people wrong in that we can still win even though we’re that young.”

In order to produce the results the group is looking for, the head coach believes it is imperative to buy into the team’s ‘1-0’ mentality.

“There’s doubts on if we can repeat as champions,” Purdue said. “Right now, we’re going to try to win every game. Our goal is to be 1-0 every day. Get better today, so it’ll show tomorrow.”

The Gators focus on improving themselves so that they can continue to perfect Purdue’s up-tempo brand of basketball.

“It’s going to be fast-paced,” Purdue said. “We’re trying to get the ball up the floor as fast as we can. We’re going to play mostly with four guards and one post player. We’re going to score as fast as we can. If we can’t do that, we’re going to do a lot of picking and rolling with (Burts).”

According to the longtime head coach, his squad is buying-in to his style and rallying around the leadership of previously non-vocal Burts.

“It’s different for sure,” Purdue said. “I’ve been very proud of (Burts). After not being very vocal last year, this year just telling her teammates what she expects out of them. They’re buying into that. She’s a leader.”

The new-look Gators look to continue on their current trajectory and take care of business come region play; Purdue hopes to do so in front of strong home crowds.

“We’ve always had a great history of people coming out and watching our basketball,” Purdue said. “We put a good brand of basketball out on the floor. We are very supported by our community and others. We welcome anyone who wants to come out.”

Purdue and the rest of the Glenwood women’s basketball program seek to build upon their hot start as the group travels to Troy, Alabama, on Thursday night to take on the patriots of Pike Liberal Arts School. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.