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HOOPS PREVIEW SERIES: Lady Bulldogs’ ‘Big 5’ ready for a return to Richmond

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Martinsville girls basketball

Martinsville returns five players off of last year’s 2A State Runner-up squad, (from left) senior Arianna Philpott and juniors Destinee Jones, Taylar Brown, LaTroya Gravely and Janydia Taylor. 

Martinsville’s girls basketball team is in a unique position. They lost two all-state players from a year ago, but still return five players who each saw significant minutes in the team’s run to a VHSL Group 2A State runner-up finish a year ago.

Bulldogs’s head coach Charlie Holland has taken to calling his returners his ‘Big Five,’ and he hopes the experience and battle-tests they saw a year ago will help ease the transition after losing guards Brittany Turner and Jalexus Mitchell.

Martinsville has just one senior this season, 6-foot center Arianna Philpott. Philpott is joined by four juniors – point guard Taylar Brown, shooting guard LaTroya Gravely, and forwards Destinee Jones and Janydia Taylor. While Holland admits he doesn’t think this team is necessarily better without Turner and Mitchell, he believes this could be pound-for-pound one of the most talented teams he’s coached.

“We’ve got size, we’ve got speed and each one of the girls that I’m sticking on the floor in my first eight rotation has great court awareness and I think that’s going to take us a long way,” Holland said. “Now you get to see other people do some things. When you’ve got athletes like Brittany and Jalexus you really don’t run an offense, you really don’t run a defense because they were just so much faster than everybody else by the time you got there and set up a play they’ve already stole the ball and are on the other end. So I think now it’s going to take five people to do what primarily two people were doing. So now you’ll get to see everybody else for what they really are.”

Holland has dubbed this year’s team “Team Tradition.” His hope is that they can get back to the old style of play where it’s less run-and-gun and more slowed down, fundamental, returning to the basics of basketball.

All five of Hollands’ starters have at least three years of varsity experience, which adds to his confidence in them as players.

“They got to train with Brittany and Jalexus a lot,” he said. “With this group right here I taught them a lot of things when they were freshmen… We can do everything. We can play man, we can play any type of zone, we can press. We can do it all. Whereas before I had to exploit the strengths of Brittany and Jalexus and these girls just kind of followed along the way. Now it’s on them. They wanted a turn at it, now it’s their turn to step up.”

Holland called Brown the “thinker” on the team, and said she fills the role left by the Bulldogs’ other graduated senior Mariah Holland.

Philpott and Taylor will be physical defensive presences down low, and Holland said his hope is that they can use more plays to get Philpott scoring more this year also. Jones, a 5’10 forward, is equally as fast on defense and fills some of the void in the speed department, while Gravely will help with outside shooting and be a scoring threat.

The Bulldogs add two sophomores and two freshmen up from last year’s JV squad.

“Nerves are going to get my freshmen and our sophomores sometimes so I’m depending on my big five to get us through so all the other ones have to worry about is knowing their role, taking smart shots, making smart passes and just being on task,” Holland said.

One good thing for the Bulldogs’ Big Five is that they’ve got a state finals appearance under their belts, and they know what it takes to get there. Holland said that’s something they choose not to talk about though.

“It’s already on their mind so I never talk about it,” he said. “The first four years that I had this job my focus was to get to the state championship. I never said anything about winning the state championship, I said ‘let’s get there.’ Once we get there then we’ll figure out how to win it. That’s the way it’s always been in Martinsville.

“This is how I look at it – if you get there then you’ve got to take something away and learn something from it so the next time when it comes in front of you you’ve got to clean your mistakes. As a coach, that’s on me. There’s some things I learned last year that I think hurt us that could have helped if I would have known before. It’s just the nerves take over when there’s a lot going on, but it’s the preparation you have during the season. The season is your preparation for the bigger picture.”

While replacing an important graduating class won’t be easy, Holland said this year it’s all about the journey of seeing what each game gives them.

“Am I saying we’re going to win every game or we’re going to go 24-6 again? No. We’re going to win some close games, we’re going to lose some close games. We’re going to win some games by a big margin and we’re going to probably lose a game or two by a big margin. But all of that is just a process in the journey that you’re trying to take to get to that championship level. Do I think I have a championship caliber team? Yes because I think they’ve been battle tested. Now for me to tell you we’re going to win a state championship it’s up to them. We’ve got the recipe, we’ve just got to bake the cake.”

Cara Cooper is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at cara.cooper@martinsvillebulletin.com

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