BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
You can tell Russell senior forward Alexis Maynard’s father is a football coach: she used the “p” word in reference to the Lady Devils’ approach to trying to repeat as 16th Region champion.
“It’s definitely a process,” Maynard said. “You can’t just think that, ‘We won last year, so we’re fine.’ We have to keep building and work harder every day, because we do have a bull’s-eye on our back, and everyone wants to be in that spot again, so we have to continue to work hard.”
The Lady Devils won the region title last season for the first time since 1994.
Their bid for an encore is made easier by the fact they lost no one to graduation.
Has Lady Devils coach Mandy Layne mentioned to her team they’ll need a new mentality as the proverbial hunted, not the role of hunter they expertly executed last postseason?
“Just about every practice,” Darnell said, as Layne grinned while listening in. “We try not to worry about it too much, though. We try to just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Added Layne: “As Madison said, I keep them grounded each and every day. I’ve told the kids, we’re gonna approach things like we have always approached them. We’re not gonna change what we’re doing, because what we’re doing, we feel, is working.”
Part of what the Lady Devils are doing is fulfilling their roles to a T, Layne said.
“I think we’ve done a good job of being the hardestworking team in the region, and honestly, I think where they have played together so long, they have the best con- tinuity,” the coach said. “I have a very selfless team. They want each other to be successful, and they do a really good job of finding the open person and playing together.”
Russell begins offensively and defensively with Maggie Jachimczuk. The senior forward was tabbed the 16th Region Tournament MVP last season and averaged 16.0 points and 11.0 rebounds a game to lead the team in each category.
Jachimczuk also provided a game-changing defensive play in the region finals. Her blocked shot with a onepoint lead and 5:13 to play helped the Lady Devils stave off East Carter’s comeback charge. Russell won, 45-41.
“One thing I always say about Maggie that people don’t know, she really helps us as much defensively as she does offensively,” Layne said.
Joining Jachimczuk in the frontcourt is Maynard, the daughter of Russell’s football coach. Her 5.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game don’t quantify her knack for doing “the little things,” Layne said.
“She’s kind of our glue, especially on defense and rebounding,” Layne said. “She does all the little things that you want her to do.”
Junior guard Madison Darnell pitched in 13.3 points and 6.5 boards a game last winter.
“She’s so multi-dimensional,” Layne said of Darnell. “She can shoot it, she can post, she can drive it. On defense, where she’s so long, she can really bother people, and her ballhandling (is good) all around, and she has a really high basketball IQ.”
Junior guard Ty Mitchell gave Russell 8.7 ppg last year and is the Lady Devils’ lockdown defender. Layne said Russell seeks more from her offensively this season. Junior Rachel Michael “had an awesome regional tournament,” Layne said, and pitched in 6.4 ppg.
Also potential post contributors, Layne said, are sophomore Lakie Sanders and eighth-grader Aubrey Hill. Layne praised Sanders’ work to get stronger and called Hill “one of the most athletic kids that I’ve ever seen.”
Eighth-grader Kaeli Ross, junior Camryn Ratliff, sophomore McKenah Morris and sophomore Ashlyn Andre drew mention from Layne as guards who give Russell quality depth.