Lady 'Horns hope to continue progress

By Matt Hill

   MOUNTAIN CITY -- The progress of the Johnson County Lady Longhorn basketball team can be compared to a crawling baby trying to walk. They're attempting to take the next step.
   Judging from last year, the Lady 'Horns seem to be moving in the right direction. Johnson County finished 14-12 during the 2000-2001 season, and lost only two seniors from that team.
   The Lady Longhorns have a new coach this year as Eric Crabtree takes over for Austin Atwood, who is now coaching the boys team.
   Crabtree brings an impressive resume to the table. He spent several seasons as a varsity boys and girls coach in the Roanoke, Va. area.
   The adjustment from one coach to another can sometimes be tough, but Crabtree believes the players are handling it pretty well.
   "It's been pretty smooth so far," Crabtree said. "I know things cannot be perfect. There's always transition. Anytime you replace somebody, there's transition. But for the most part I won't do anything different than what Austin does. We basically have the same philosophies and ideas about basketball."
   Crabtree likes what he sees so far.
   "We're pretty athletic," Crabtree said. "We've got a good mix of speed and some tall players inside. We have players that will go after it, and I've been real pleased with that. We've made some mental mistakes, but for the most part we work our butt off."
   The Longhorns lost key players like A. J. Howard and Nikki Scott, but most of last year's squad is back to open the Crabtree era. One of those players is senior post Jessica Townsend, who is the leading returning scorer from last year.
   "She does pretty good," Crabtree said. "She works real hard inside with her back to the basket, trying to get her inside game going, but she's talented enough to pull out for the three. She has a lot of potential to do a lot of things this year."
   There are two other definite starters on the Longhorn team. Point guard Courtney Shaw and shooting guard Andrea McQueen will make up the starting backcourt.
   "Courtney's a good ball player," Crabtree said. "She handles the ball pretty well, and defensively we don't have anybody better. She'll get after it."
   While Crabtree is very impressed with Shaw's defense, he knows McQueen can light it up.
   "Andrea's a shooter," Crabtree said. "She's one of the purest shooters I've seen in a while. Shooters like her only come around once every five or six years."
   Three other players should rotate into the starting lineup. Junior Nikki Davidson, senior Tasha Lunceford, and junior Shanna Phipps will start some for Crabtree.
   "They all bring something different to the game," Crabtree said. "You have to get a feel on who is going to be that girl that night. We're finding who is going to step up and play."
   Lee Ann Townsend will see time both as a forward and a guard, while sophomore post Elena Owens could also see some minutes on the varsity.
   Rounding out the roster are promising freshmen Laura Peters and Kassandra Pennington.
   The Watauga Conference is up for grabs, and Crabtree hopes his team can be in the mix.
   "I want to be in the top three," Crabtree said. "And we've got the potential to be there. That's not knowing what anybody else has got, that's just me knowing what my girls can do. I feel we can be in the top three."
   The Lady Longhorns finished third in the Watauga last season, but were defeated by Chuckey-Doak in the first round of the District 1-AA Tournament.
   That loss is still remembered by Jessica Townsend, and she wants to make sure a repeat performance doesn't occur during this campaign.
   "I think we'll do better," Townsend said. "We're hoping to go to the regionals. That's our goal."