Albany forward Ladaisha Green is part of a large junior class that saw a lot of playing time last season for the Squaws, who have started the season with a 2-2 record.
ALBANY — It was hard to watch.
One by one they seemed to fall like leaves in autumn, until the Albany High girls basketball team had almost no one left.
Injuries all but wiped out the Squaws’ starting lineup a year ago, including Chasity Mullins, a junior who had averaged 18 points and led the team with nine rebounds a game as a sophomore.
But somehow Telly Turner’s team managed to stay together as the coach patched the holes with a bunch of hungry and green sophomores. Those kids hung together and when Lisa Hollinger made a steal and a basket in the final seconds to beat Berrien, 43-42, that was enough to lift Albany into the Class AA state playoffs.
The Squaws finished last year with a 6-17 record and lost in the first round, but last year’s season of growing up the hard way has opened the door to a lot of hope and promise this season.
“It was tough,’’ Turner said of last year’s injury-filled season. “But when the realization set in, I was just teaching and going with the girls I had. Those sophomores stepped in and had to play, but they grew up a lot. It was a blessing. They got valuable experience, and I knew it would pay off this year.’’
The Squaws are already 2-2 this year and are currently on a two-game winning streak.
Mullins returns as the only senior on this year’s team.
But that crop of sophomores — seven girls who are now juniors — could make this a season to remember for Albany High.
Hollinger, a 5-1 guard, NaKeidra Gervin, a 5-7 guard, Kair’Sha Jackson, a 5-4 guard, Monique Perkins, a 6-1 post, Briana Williams, a 5-7 guard, Briana Washington, a 5-9 guard, and Ladaisha Green make up Albany High’s junior class that all saw playing time as sophomores a year ago.
Williams averaged 10 points a game last year, Washington averaged about six points, and Gervin averaged about five points. All those numbers could improve this year.
“A lot of those girls who played last year wouldn’t have gotten the chance without those injuries,’’ Turner said. “We turned a negative into a positive as much as we could. Those sophomores led us to the state playoffs. They are a very close-knit group.’’
Turner is expecting a big year, and it all starts with Mullins, a 5-8 guard who can run the floor, shoot the lights out and also rebound. It’s rare for a guard to lead a team in rebounds, but that’s a testament to Mullins’ aggressive play.
Mullins, a Herald Super 6 selection, is the leader of this team.
“She’s a very tenacious rebounder because she is so strong,’’ Turner said. “She is very aggressive on the floor, and she is the leader. But she doesn’t have an aggressive personality at all.
“She’s very kind and helpful,’’ Turner added. “She’s not the one to push anybody. She is the leader through her actions. She’s just not vocal.’’
Mullins is ecstatic to be back on the court after tearing her ACL last season and missing the second half of the season.
“I was crying every game last year,’’ she said. “I would be in the locker room before the game and I would be off to myself crying so nobody could see me.’’
Now she’s back, ready to lead Albany to a region title.
“I know I have to have a good season,’’ she said. “Either I step up or we won’t have a good season. I do feel like we are the team to beat if we don’t make mistakes.’’
Mullins, like Turner, believes in the young juniors who played last year.
“Those sophomores had to step up last year,’’ Mullins said. ‘They had to grow up. They grew up last year and that’s going to make it a better season this year.’’
Albany High has reached the playoffs four years in a row, and Turner believes this is the year her kids can win the Region 1-AA title.
“This year I’m expecting nothing but the best,’’ Turner said. “There’s no reason we won’t be at the top of our region. We’re definitely a whole lot better this year. Our goal is to win the region.’’