Fresh from a pair of victories in the Thanksgiving Shootout, the Bartow high school girls basketball team got back to the business of taking on Polk County rivals and district foes. On this night, it would be the George Jenkins squad, who were simply never in the game. The Lady Jackets faced off against district foe Haines City and lost a tight one. Haines City has been a thorn in Bartow’s side for the past few seasons and a shot at revenge is Dec. 13 at the Haines City gym.
Winning is the way its done when you look at the Bartow girls program. A successful 22-5 season in 2011-12 served to set the stage for this year. With each passing game, the team grows stronger and closer together, which isn’t good news for any opposition.
“Playing in the Shootout gave us a lot,” said head coach Richard Murvin. “It identified weaknesses. You can hide those things when the opponent is not tough. It set the tone for the practice, which was real upbeat. We saw the mistakes that were made and the girls are determined to not let those mistakes be repeated as they get on through the schedule.”
For the most part, there was a lot of fine tuning that needed attention, both on offense and defense. Bartow will have a height advantage over several opponents, but one aspect of the game cannot win games alone. The emphasis in the off-season, which continues through the year, is conditioning.
“You don’t want the team to peak too early,” said Murvin. “You want them to build the momentum until right before the districts and then hold that for the
2-3 weeks you need to keep moving.”
There has been a great effort placed on conditioning from the physical side of it, but conditioning also involves the mental preparation to deal with the game time situations and playing in the clutch. “We want to be in better shape than any of our opponents, which is why we work on it year round. By working on this, we are raising the skill level and becoming stronger as a team.”
There’s a word in the dictionary right before “conditioning” that sets the stage for success. That word is “commitment” and it’s not to be taken lightly. The commitment extends well beyond the time spent on the floor in front of the cheering crowd.
“You need the commitment from the athlete, but you also need it from the parents and everyone surrounding the athlete,” Murvin explains. “You have to consider the family as well. This player may have chores and responsibilities at home that aren’t getting done when they are practicing or playing. Someone else is stepping up to pick up the slack. I really appreciate my parents. They see the big picture when sometimes the kids can’t see that far down the road.”
Of course, the players are students first, a fact that Murvin believes gets lost in it all. “People think athletes have it easy. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the athlete is being asked to do more. They have everything that the other students have plus practices and games and activities and have to get everything together. It could be three hours of practice, then home for homework or chores or study and be fresh and ready to do it all again the next day. On game nights, they may not even make it home until much later and still have to do the work that goes with.” Progress reports on academic work are presented each work during the season to head off any issues. For those who wear the school colors on the court, there is the added responsibility of being a role model, always under the scrutiny of others. Being a teenager is tough enough, but this added responsibility can test your mettle. “The teachers understand how Bartow High School coaches are pushing their players to succeed,” Murvin added. “We try to catch behavior issues, which are few, early enough to redirect them. We want to support the household as kind of a ‘third parent’ to make their jobs just a little easier.”
Teamwork is necessary to winning. The players have roles that draw on their strengths and coaches seek out a balance. “We’re coming together as a team,” Murvin said. “We are making leaps and bounds of progress in that area this year. Our players spend time with each other and care about each other. Sure, there will be differences, but when they get on the floor, they work well. They know their position and what it takes to making the play successful.”
With a few openings to fill from last year, Bartow can roll along with the tradition. “When you win, everyone wants to be a part of the program and that is healthy for the future,” said Murvin. “There are quite a few schools in the area that don’t have JV basketball because the varsity program isn’t doing well and no one wants to be on the team. There’s no school spirit for it. We have a solid program that feeds the varsity with Coach (Clifton) Wells and the JV squad. People want to be a part of it, the school wants to come out and support it and school spirit is high. Everyone wins in that way.”
The 2012 varsity includes five seniors with three juniors two sophomores and a freshman on the squad. Players are Marisha Bullard, Shanti Groover, Shakera Jones, Jerrika Joyce, Zykira Lewis, Eva Richardson, Chenya Sealey, Janique Seawell, Diantrah Walker, Bailee Wolfe and Alexis Zellner.
The JV team is composed of Kayla Charles, Keeunshay Crawford, Shanadikah Hopkin, Malikah McClain, Ke’Shonda Moses, Sujaya Rajguru, Malaysia Roden, Kiara Rooch, Drenisha St. Louis, Dasia Torres, Brooke Walker and Emily Wells.