Lady Warriors looking to surprise

Westside’s Sloane Welch lines up a jump shot during a Northeast Arkansas Invitational game against Rector last season. Welch, a junior, is among the returning starters for the Lady Warriors.

JONESBORO — Sara Lehman sees the potential for a team that could turn a few heads at Westside.

The Lady Warriors have depth and experience. They regain a couple of key players who are returning from injuries while adding a couple of newcomers who figure to start immediately. They look to have multiple scorers and Lehman anticipates strong chemistry, too.

“If we stay healthy and we get to play, I think there will be some people surprised this year,” said Lehman, Westside’s fifth-year head coach. “We finally have all the elements that we need. I think this is the best team I’ve had since I’ve been at Westside.”

Lehman lists a dozen players who could contribute this winter for the Lady Warriors, nearly half of whom gained starting experience on last year’s team that finished 8-16 overall and 2-12 in the 4A-3 conference.

Senior point guard KaNya Ford was averaging 9.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game until she suffered a season-ending knee injury in the eighth game. Lehman said Ford will be a key with her ability to handle the ball and create opportunities for teammates.

“She’s very good at making our offense run smoothly and everyone is where they’re supposed to be,” Lehman said. “She attacks the basket and she’s been working on her shooting a lot, too.”

Junior forward Bailey Willis led the Lady Warriors for the season with averages of 9.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. Willis put up 19 points against Maynard, 18 against Brookland and 16 points and 12 rebounds against Valley View.

Lehman expects senior guard Bella Spinks to return to Westside’s lineup after missing last season because of foot injuries.

“She’s probably one of the best shooters in our conference this year if she stays healthy,” Lehman said.

Two newcomers are expected to join the starting five. Lehman said sophomore guard Megan Hedger could be the team’s top player as she moves up from the junior high level.

“She can be an all-around player. If I need her to go inside, she’s not very big, but she’s smart enough that she can get in there and battle and she uses her body well,” Lehman said. “She’s like KaNya, she makes a lot of things happen on the floor. She drives to the basket, she can see the shooters outside and she’s going to draw a lot of attention going to the basket.”

Arial Garza, a junior who moved in from Valley View, is expected to start in the post.

“She has good post moves and she can shoot outside too, and defensively she is a wall,” Lehman said.

Junior guards Sloane Welch and Laynee Montgomery are key players in Westside’s rotation after starting last season. Welch averaged 6.6 points last season and Montgomery is good defensively, Lehman said.

Senior guard Gracie Turpin, who has two years of starting experience, averaged 7.1 points before suffering a knee injury last season. Lehman also expects sophomore guard Georgia Spinks, senior forward Danielly Orozco, senior guard Taylor Lamb and junior guard Baile Rogers to contribute.

“I think we’re going to be capable of scoring because we have so many players who can score this year,” Lehman said. “There’s not going to be just one or two on the floor. I think any night I could have a different leading scorer and that’s what I’m excited about.”

The 4A-3 conference loses one of its top teams with Batesville’s move to Class 5A. Trumann joins a lineup that also includes a returning co-champion in Batesville Southside along with Pocahontas, Brookland, Highland, Valley View and Blytheville.

Westside finished seventh in the conference last season.

“I think we could be a lot higher than what we have been in the past,” Lehman said, “but we’ll see.”