COLUMBIA — Battle High School's first ever girls basketball coach Angie Roberds got a "head start" on the Spartans' inaugural season.
"I was over at Oakland Junior High, I was the athletic director over there," Roberds said. "I coached the eighth-grade girls (basketball team) that are the ninth-graders this year, and so I coached them knowing I had (the Battle head coaching) position — so, kinda a little head start."
Battle Girls Basketball
Class 4, District 4
Coach: Angie Roberds, 1st year
Last year's record: N/A
Key players: junior guard Mariah Brisco, junior guard/forward Kaylea Hodes, junior forward Ellie Johnson, freshman forward Maya Mouton, junior guard Cheyanna Weaver
Considering that almost half of the Spartans' 26-player roster — including both varsity and junior varsity players — are freshmen, that head start might be important.
Though Roberds is still figuring out her starting five — and under a compressed timeline — her diverse experience as a head coach has her ready for the season. The Spartans are a tall, athletic bunch and boast some guards with solid ball-handling and shooting skills. In particular, Battle junior Ellie Johnson, a 6-foot-2 forward who's getting eyes from some Division I schools, is one of several players to watch.
Friday was only the 11th practice for the Spartans.
"We have 19 days of practice before our first competition," Roberds said. "So that right there kinda ties our hands a little bit."
Elaborating on the tight timetable, Roberds said that a lot of her players were dual-sport athletes, making it that much harder to get them all in the gym at the same time. But despite a hurried schedule and logistical challenges, Roberds feels ready.
"You know, coaching at the junior high level, you get a new set of players every year — I'm ready for this," Roberds said. "Every year's a new set — I'm pretty conditioned for this."
She certainly is conditioned. Not only is she accustomed to coaching new players; she's also had a variety of coaching roles, including girls and boys basketball, high school track and field, and softball. Roberds has been coaching in some capacity since 1995, making this year her 18th season.
The veteran coach said the young squad will benefit from its height and athletic guard play. In particular, she bragged about junior guards Mariah Brisco and Cheyanna Weaver, freshman center Maya Mouton, and 5-9 junior Kaylea Hodes, who plays every position.
In last Friday's practice, Weaver handled the ball particularly well and showed a consistent stroke from the free throw line, even after some particularly uptempo drills. Mouton played well too, offering a good target in the post for entrance passes and grabbing several rebounds during the scrimmage portion of practice.
In addition to height and strong guard play, Roberds said that Johnson, an all-district player last year at Hickman, would be an asset to the team. Roberds said that three Division I schools — Southern Illinois University, Saint Louis University and the University of Denver — as well as one NAIA school are expressing interest in Johnson.
Roberds said that Johnson and her teammates will look to "run and gun" on the court, and that the team's offensive set will use motion. She added that defensively, the Spartans will look to apply a lot of pressure and put opposing teams in uncomfortable positions.
"We're gonna be exciting," Roberds said.
She said her team will be scrappy — diving after loose balls and not being afraid to get on the floor.
Roberds wants that tenacious effort to be on full display in the Spartans' games, especially in the team's seven home contests. She hopes that fans will pack the gym for her girls, and she promises to make it worth their while.
"I just want them to know that we're going to give them their money's worth," Roberds said.
Battle's first game will be on the road when the team takes on Class 5 Troy Buchanan High School at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Supervising editor is Nina Pantic.