Lady Cougars working towards identity as season approaches

Junior Mallory Smith and the Lady Cougars defeated West Ouachita 62-40 in a scrimmage on Monday. (photo by Darrell James)

by Malcolm Butler

It’s a new era in Cedar Creek Lady Cougars basketball, and in more ways than one.

Gone is longtime veteran Creek girls coach Gene Vandenlangberg (retirement) and veteran floor leaders in Allie Furr, Lizzie McAdams and Lillian Soto (graduation).

Enter a new coaching staff and a new crop of Lady Cougars.

Katie Hall, a Lady Techster basketball alum and disciple of legendary women’s basketball coach Leon Barmore, was hired following Vandenlangenberg’s announcement to take over the reigns of the program.

And following a pair of scrimmages against Castor and West Ouachita, Hall said she and her players are still searching for this team’s identity. Furr and McAdams were Creek’s top two scorers last season and thus finding who will fill those roles will be a process, according to Hall.

“We are just trying to figure out where the points are going to come from,” said Hall. “I don’t know right now from what position they will come. They are learning my style and philosophy, and I am learning their personalities. But when they play hard, it makes it really fun to coach. When the effort is there and the right attitude is there … that’s all I can really ask for right now.”

After struggling in a scrimmage loss to Castor that saw Creek score just 31 points while committing 42 turnovers, Hall saw some improvement in a 64-40 scrimmage win over West Ouachita Monday night at the Brickhouse.

“I think the guards, especially (sophomore) Caroline (James) in the point guard role was more poised,” said Hall. “But we still have to make better passes … not maybe passes. That’s what I call them. We are having too many maybe passes. It’s just a matter of making the simple pass.”

Junior Mallory Smith scored 20 points in the win over West Ouachita while Olivia Underwood added 13 points for the Lady Cougars. With the exception of a handful of three-pointers by the tandem, the vast majority of those points came in transition after forcing turnovers.

“We are going to have to figure out a way to get some points from our defense,” said Hall. “I think in the half-court set we are going to struggle with that, at least early in the year. We have struggled to handle pressure so far in our first two scrimmages. So we have to figure out how to create turnovers and points from them and then not turn the ball over.”

The Lady Cougars, who open the regular season Nov. 14 at home against Saline, are also searching for leadership on the floor, according to Hall.

“Caroline has stepped into the role of the point guard, having to handle a role she has never had before,” said Hall. “She is getting comfortable the more reps she can get. She leads quietly, but there are other seniors who are starting to step up vocally and are playing hard. Olivia Underwood is giving lots of effort and energy and sacrificing her body all the time.

“I don’t really care who leads as long as it is positive,” said Hall. “It doesn’t have to be a senior. It can be anybody.”

The 2023-24 roster includes six seniors who were a part of last year’s co-District champion team: Ava Hartwell, Underwood, Elli Dickerson, Ainsley Riley, Leah Sutherland and Baylee Mabou.

The Lady Cougars JV team also played Monday night, defeating West Ouachita 41-40 led by freshman Alivia Lee’s 18 points.