BY JAKE GONZALEZ
FOR THE OBSERVER
The first season as a head coach is tough enough already. It is especially hard when you land the job just a few months before the season starts.
A year ago, Blake Smalley was thrust into the role as head coach of the Opelika High School girls’ basketball team two months before the season started. With no summer opportunity to meet his team, Smalley said he was still impressed with how his first season went.
“This year was a little bit different,” Smalley said. “I didn’t get the summer with them, so I didn’t get to be around them as much and build a relationship with them in order to be as successful as we would like to be.”
The Lady Dawgs finished the 2021-22 season going 14-14 and made the playoffs, where they were knocked out in the sub-regional game by Park Crossing, who made it to the final four. The girls’ team finished second in their region with a record of 5-3 in those games, trailing only Eufala who went undefeated in region play.
“I would have liked to win a few more games,” Smalley said. “I would’ve liked to advance further in the playoffs. I think overall it was successful. There are things other than wins and losses you can count as a success.”
The Lady Dawgs are looking to build on those successes as they move into the second season under the leadership of Smalley. They look to build on that success that may not have been wins and losses, but the addition of new talent to the roster.
“We had close to double try out in the spring compared to the fall,” he said. “I think we are doing things to encourage participations and get kids excited about the program.”
The girls‘ team returns a lot of players from last year’s team, according to Smalley, but he said he thinks they are going to lose about 70% of their scoring production from last season, but that it won’t slow them down.
In total, the team lost six players with three being regular starters. Five of those six were seniors and one moved away.
“We return a lot of kids that got some minutes on varsity,” he said. “They didn’t play a bulk of the minutes. There are definitely gonna be some opportunities for kids to step up.”
Of the 16 returning players, the three rising seniors — Cherdi Daniels, Nzahri Fanning and Kahmya Bufford — are the ones that Smalley said he expects to step up and fill that production loss for the Lady Dawgs.
“I’m excited about [the 2022-23 season],” he said.
Over the summer, the varsity squad is set to play 15 games to get ready for the start of the season, and the junior varsity team is set to play eight games.
On June 20, Smalley and his team will host a middle school play day at the high school. Any middle school team is welcome to participate and can get in contact with Smalley through his email, firstname.lastname@example.org, in order to participate. Four schools have already registered: Opelika, Auburn, Lanett and Loachapoka.