After more than 30 years coaching girls’ basketball at one school, Tony Shutes is spending his second consecutive season getting used to coaching players in a new program.
And he got a chance in the third week of the season to have an idea what they’re made of with four games in five nights.
Shutes, who coached the girls’ basketball team at University School of Jackson for three decades, leading the Lady Bruins to the state championship game on multiple occasions, made the move to Jackson Christian this year after spending a year getting the program at Jackson Central-Merry started in its rebirth.
He accepted the job in June, so he didn’t get to have a full offseason with the girls.
“I’m still getting used to them, and they’re still getting used to me,” Shutes said.
No one in the Lady Eagles’ program planned it this way, but they played four games in five nights this past week, which inadvertently gave them a chance to see how well they could do during a busy schedule similar to what could happen in February when the postseason begins.
“I didn’t want to schedule it this way this early, but that’s how it happened,” Shutes said.
The Lady Eagles already had three games scheduled for the week when November ended and December began with a game on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at North Side. A Division II-A West district game against Carroll Academy came on Thursday and another non-district game in the city against Madison was set for Friday.
The game earlier in the week against Bolivar was a late addition to the schedule.
“One of the other schools in our district, Sacred Heart, isn’t having a girls’ team this year, so if I wanted to make up that game, I needed to go find another opponent for us,” Shutes said. “And I found Bolivar.”
Bolivar needed another game, but the Lady Tigers’ issue was they didn’t have a lot of open spots on the calendar that coincided with Jackson Christian’s schedule.
“We didn’t start talking until October, and most schedules are done not long after the previous season ends,” Shutes said. “So I knew it would be a challenge, but I went ahead and put Bolivar down for this past Monday.”
And it was a good chance to evaluate where the Lady Eagles are three weeks into the season and a few weeks before they get into the heart of their district schedule.
The Lady Eagles were perfect on the week, beating Bolivar 62-36, North Side 68-20, Carroll Academy 63-19 and Madison 59-29. And all of that came the week after the Lady Eagles had to postpone a game with perennial state power Westview because so many players on Jackson Christian’s roster had the flu.
“I was legitimately concerned this time last week how we would respond because some players come back and do great and others struggle for a game or two as they get their strength back,” Shutes said. “But I like this team because of what they showed this week – they’re going to come out and play hard.
“And we learned a lot about some players. Some of the younger players coming off the bench earned a lot more of my trust because of what they showed this week. So I like where we are after a few weeks.”
Players who did well on the stat sheet during the week included Trinity Brooks, averaging 17.5 points per game including a career-high 27 against North Side, and Alana Yarbrough with 11 points per game.
Brandon Shields, firstname.lastname@example.org