BY Harrison Tarr
For the Observer
As the fall semester draws to an end, citizens of Opelika, Alabama, absorb their last look of the hometown Bulldogs football season and begin to look ahead to what the remainder of the athletic year has in store. For newly hired head coach Blake Smalley, the turning of attention towards winter sports provides the opportunity to captivate his community with the beginning of the Opelika High School women’s basketball season.
With his newly acquired position as leader of the Lady Dawgs, Smalley had the opportunity to look forward to the rapidly approaching season. According to the OHS newcomer, the team’s mentality will be consistent as they enter each contest.
“Just competing and playing to the standard,” Smalley said. “Competing night-in and night-out whether you’re up or down.”
To compliment the running theme of competition, the Dawgs will play a distinct brand of aggressive, yet educated basketball.
“We will be a team that plays up-tempo,” Smalley said. “We want to play a really aggressive style of defense that’s smart and disciplined at the same time. We want to push the ball and try to get down the floor and score easy buckets when possible. When there’s nothing there we’ll space the floor.”
The 2021-22 campaign will focus not only on competing right now, but in developing what Smalley depicts as a young group of talent.
“If you look at us grade-wise, we’ve got four or five seniors,” Smalley said. “But, other than that, we don’t have a real big junior class. We’re fairly young.”
Although the Dawgs are already two games into the season, Smalley’s implementation of his scheme is still a work in progress due to the nature of him being a late-edition to the program.
“It’s a little bit different because I didn’t get to have Summer with them,” Smalley said. “Most coaches are highered early summer and kind of get to have the Summer with them. I got hired on about a week before school started.”
A late hiring has not impeded the newly-named head coach’s ability to get to know his squad. Smalley spoke highly of players such as standout senior guard Haley Sanders.
“I would say Haley Sanders,” Smalley said. “She’s a senior that’s been starting since she was a freshman. She’s one that I think we’ll rely on pretty heavily.”
Smalley expects Sanders’ play in the back court to be complimented by sophomore guard Erica Mathews.
“Erica Mathews, she’s a sophomore, she’s got the opportunity to be a really good player offensively and defensively for us,” Smalley said.
The Opelika newcomer also mentioned his excitement for the potential of senior Ashanti Thomas at both guard and forward.
“Ashanti Thomas, she’s got the opportunity to be another really strong player,” Smalley said. “And we’ve got several others, we return a lot of pieces that got minutes last year.”
More than anything, Smalley looks forward to the involvement of the Opelika community in rallying behind their Dawgs.
“I think it’s really big,” Smalley said. “It’s big for the crowd. The kids love playing the game and the kids love playing in front of crowds too. Support from the students, the community, they love that aspect. We want to represent Opelika well.”
The Lady Dawgs continue their early season campaign when the squad travels to Smiths Station to take on the Lady Panthers. Tipoff for the contest is set for 7 p.m. CT.