ANNA — The Lady Coyotes averaged 39.5 points per game in district play last season and Anna head coach Justin Baldia knows that’s not enough — not if they want to reach the playoffs.
“Everybody is going to have to score more for us,” he said recently at Anna’s Rattan Elementary, where he also teaches PE. “You’ve got to be scoring in the 60s. So everybody’s got to step up, offensively.”
Last season, the Lady Coyotes posted a fifth-place 2-8 mark in District 11-4A and were 13-17 overall.
“We talked a lot about that just being sort of Year 0,” said Baldia, who’s now starting his second year at the helm. “It’s tough for the girls: three coaches in three years. Coming in with different expectations, different terminology, each coach telling you to do the same thing a different way. There’s a steep learning curve.
“We were a team that struggled to find an identity all year, either what we do well or who we were. … Getting off to slow starts and digging ourselves out is not a good game plan for success. This year, something we’re really emphasizing is - from the jump, from the first whistle - we’re ready to go.”
Still, there was a point last season when the Lady Coyotes were close to being 3-1 in district – but instead were 1-3. “We were up 13 at Melissa and we lose by three points,” Baldia recalled. “We lose at [district champion] Aubrey by five - a tight game the whole way. Those two games, the ball bounces a different way, we hit free throws, a missed call here or there – not to blame the officials — but that’s just how close we were.”
Now graduated from last year’s squad are All-District guard Skyla Mackey and forward Hannah Howell, a district All-Defensive Team pick last season. “Obviously, their senior leadership and knowledge of the game, we’ll miss that for sure,” Baldia said.
But, he noted, Anna welcomes back a solid crew of seniors, including forward Aubreanna Traylor, a district Co-Defensive MVP last year; All-District guard Marianna Bert; All-District Honorable Mention forward Lexi Stewart, All-District Honorable Mention guard Kaycee Redwine; and forward Shataelyn King.
All-District junior forward Qua Fisher returns as well. Stewart, Traylor and Fisher just wrapped up volleyball season while Redwine, King and Bert and have been on the court since August.
A Lady Coyotes plus this season: “We’re going to be long and athletic,” Baldia said. Traylor, Stewart and Fisher all stand 5-9 or taller and bring plenty of physicality.
A junior newcomer who’ll add more height inside is Kylie Agerlid. She was out of athletics her freshman year but the nearly 6-foot Agerlid played JV ball as a sophomore. “She has put in a ton of work this off-season,” Baldia said. “She’s real green, not a ton of game experience, but she’s someone that we’re looking to. … She’s still refining her skill set but is a player you can ask to do anything and she’ll do it a thousand miles an hour.
“Defensively, we will look to use our athleticism to press at times and force turnovers in the front and back court.
Baldia described his five seniors.
“Kaycee is somebody who has a passion for the game and you see that on the floor every time she’s out there. That’s something that’s infectious in a really positive way. I think we feed off of that energy when she’s on the court or when she’s on the bench cheering on her teammates.
“[Shataelyn] does a great job of keeping us energized. She does a good job of vocal leadership on the court. She directs traffic, defensively, really, really well. She’ll play the center of our zone and she does a great job of communicating expectations on the court when we’re on the opposite end.
“Lexi’s a versatile player who can play on the perimeter or inside. She’s a smart, savvy player with good vision and feel for the games. … On most nights, Bre is the best athlete in the gym – strong, fast and long. She helps us do so many things defensively. She has a knack for picking up second-chance points by fighting on the glass.”
Bert is known to get the hot hand from 3-point range and Baldia wants to see more of that. “I put the expectation on her in the spring and summer,” he said. “When we were in these summer league games, I’d be like, ‘You need to be looking to score 15 a game.’ … She’s a high-IQ basketball player and we talk about her maybe being a little bit more selfish. She’s a great teammate – looks to get her teammates involved. And sometimes the best decision with the ball in her hands is for her to take the open shot.”
Baldia added, “We want 3s, layups and post moves.” Regarding 3s, he laughed, “We’ll fire them up. Our girls know - if they have the green light, if they’re open — shoot it. And they take me pretty seriously on that sometimes.”
Positive change is indeed occurring, Baldia said. “The biggest thing this year is we have a culture, whereas we didn’t before. It was understandable — three coaches in three years – what’s our identity? This year, we’ve definitely established a culture and expectations. Our returning players know what they’re supposed to be doing. There’s been times where I’ll blow the whistle to start the next drill and I’ll have one of our seniors say, ‘Coach, give me a second.’ And they’ll be coaching up a girl, saying, ‘Hey, we need to close out like this. We need to force them this way.’ So now instead of me having to do 100-percent of the coaching, it’s girls coaching each other.
“We’ve had a good off-season this summer and we’ve had girls in the gym this fall. Where it would be one or two girls in the gym, we’ve had 13 or 14 girls — putting in an extra hour’s worth of work after school.”
And there’s this: “We have a thing where we make them earn their practice gear,” Baldia said. “They make the team but they don’t get a practice jersey until they hit some different expectations. … Marianna was always first to get hers then a girl beat her this year.” Baldia noted that Bert responded, “I want you to beat me. I’m going to go as hard as I can, but if you’re beating me that means we’re getting better.”
As for this district, Baldia said wins will be tough to come by on any given night. “Melissa made it deep into the playoffs this past year and Coach O [Oestreich] has a ton of experience coming back for his second year. Those girls are going to know more. They live in the gym over there. Aubrey, same thing. They’re tough, they won district. … Sanger – no disrespect to anybody else in the league – but I think Sanger is the best-coached team in our district. … Celina, well-coached – she has college experience. Gainesville, they’ve got a couple of girls that can go. They’re big and athletic.”
Baldia said playoffs are the obvious goal this year, adding that a No. 4 seed from this district gets you a date with Top 5 powerhouse Dallas Lincoln in the first round. “Ideally, we’d like to get into the playoffs third or better, but I’m not going to sneeze at anything making the post-season and getting extra games.”
The Lady Coyotes’ season-opener is Nov. 8 at home versus Pilot Point. They open district play Jan. 10 versus Sanger, also at home.