Pelham ready to go further with young, hard-working core

Published 11:09 pm Monday, November 6, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

After coming within a game of their second straight Final 4, the Pelham Panthers are out to prove that they have more left in the tank.

Despite losing four of their five starters from last year, including all-time leading scorer Laci Gogan, coach Crosby Morrison believes the Panthers can be as good this year and get revenge against Hillcrest for the Elite 8 loss.

“At the end of that game, I felt like everyone in the locker room was disappointed, even though we made history again by making the Elite 8,” Morrison said. “We just felt like we left stuff on the table, we had stuff to give. And so, we thanked our seniors, because that was a fantastic group, the four that we had, but we took the ones that were going to come back with us and we were like, ‘use this for motivation. This hurts because we had more to give.’ And so, we took that into the summer, took that mentality and that toughness and what we lacked that game that we need to improve on.”

That includes the offensive side of the ball, where Morrison has made some changes that she hopes will lead to success. However, the Panthers will still hang their hats on their defense and try to control the pace that way.

“We’re very defensive-minded like we always are,” Morrison said. “Traditionally, we love to press, love man defense, and we’re gritty on the boards, but we are definitely going to try some different things on offense, try to get some more movement and try to replace a big-time scorer for us.”

Despite losing Gogan and three other seniors, the Panthers still have key contributors back from last year’s Elite 8 team, including Tulane commit Karma Wynn, who, in July, became the first player in program history to commit to a Division I women’s basketball program.

Wynn wants to become a better leader within the team and a resource to her younger teammates. She also has her collegiate future in mind, and Pelham will hope to take advantage of the improvements she makes before graduating.

“I’m just working on some of the stuff they expect me to do when I get to the next level as far as skills-wise, but also trying to learn how to mentally deal with everything,” Wynn said. “Because at the next level, you don’t really have your parents there with you. Your coaches, they’re there for support, but you’ve got to be an adult, so I’m working on how to balance stuff on my own as well, even with a support system.”

Tiauna King is another key piece who should make an impact for Pelham. She was an eighth grader on the 2021 Final 4 team and contributed to the offense as a freshman last year. Now, she’s poised to make a greater impact, and Morrison has high expectations for her.

“A goal for her this season that should help us as the team is reaching a thousand points as a sophomore,” Morrison said. “We’re excited about another breakout season for her.”

Alayna Noble is the other senior along with Wynn, and she will help lead the front court for Pelham. In addition to Wynn, Noble and King, the Panthers have many exciting young players including freshman Gerren Ingram and eighth grader Chiburuoma Ajinwo.

Even though Pelham is a young team, Morrison is impressed with their effort and unity. She believes they have as much grit as their 2021 Final 4 team.

“We have some young pieces on our team this year, but this is probably the grittiest group that we’ve had since the Final 4, that it’s truly the team versus me and my elements, my feelings,” Morrison. “They are very team centered and they want to win.”

Those traits will help make up for what the Panthers lost in Gogan and the rest of the Class of 2023. Players like Gogan helped make the other players better during practice, and now, those players are helping Pelham on the court and preparing the next generation.

“She got all the accolades, but she was going up against really tough competition and younger kids,” Morrison said of Gogan. “Tiauna, as an eighth grader, we pulled her up and she was part of that Final 4 run. This is just making each other better throughout the program.

“We may lose some, but as a program, they all know the standards and expectations when they come to us, and so they’re working to get better every day in practice, and hopefully, it comes to fruition this year.”