Making the grade

Making the grade

By SETH STRINGER

NICEVILLE – Look past the No. 1 ranking, Bart Walker says.

Past the 12-0 record. Past the 84-45 nightly margin of victory.

The NWF State women's basketball team collectively has a 3.51 GPA for the fall.

And this is important why, Bart?

"We talk about being disciplined, and you have to first look to the classroom," said Walker, who spoke while recruiting at a holiday tournament in Tennessee. We were outstanding academically, and that's our main goal. If you're disciplined off the court, you'll be disciplined on it.

"We've seen that success in the classroom translate to our record on the court. We're excited where we're at."

Of course he is. Right now it's greater to be a Raider.

A big reason why is their multiple-looks defense, which features full-court and half-court traps, zone looks and man-to-man sets in forcing nearly 30 turnovers a night and holding foes to 31 percent shooting and a 26-percent clip from beyond the arc.

"Defense has always been our identity because it creates offense," Walker said. "We run run multiple looks and the girls have a huge basketball IQ. We know that the steals lead to high-percentage shots and we emphasize those looks at the basket as a team.

With Panhandle Conference play looming and the Raiders in the midst of a break before a New Year's Eve tilt against Tyler Junior College in Shreveport, Louisiana, we're here to hand out midseason grades.

And these are grades to hang on the fridge.

TEAM MVP

Leandra Echi, 5-6 sophomore guard: A

Stats: 7.8 ppg, 6.1 apg, 5.6 rpg, 57 FG percent, 3.1 spg, 1 bpg

From posting triple-doubles to being recognized as national player of the week by the NJCAA, Lee is playing lights out. She's the consummate point guard, a facilitator first as she attacks the basket, hits the boards, plays lights-out defense and leads the fast break.

Stats: 13.7 ppg, 2.7 3-pointers per game, 49 FG percent, 43 3-pt percent, 4.1 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.3 spg

Every stat is up from last year, most notably her shooting percentages – 44 to 49 percent from floor, 40 to 43 from beyond the arc. That's a testament to her not only improving her outside stroke, but also attack the hoop.

Shania Meertens, 5-8 sophomore guard: A-

Stats: 10.1 ppg, 47 FG percent, 4.4 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.3 spg

Shania has always been a pure scorer and lockdown defender. She's proven so much more for the Raiders, filling up the stat sheet while improving her outside shot.

Awa Trasi, 6-2 sophomore forward: B

Trasi is the model of consistency – never too high, never too low. Come Panhandle play we'll see if she can break out into a double-double machine.

Jaiden McCoy, 6-3 redshirt sophomore center: A-

Stats: 11.6 ppg, 65 FG percent, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 1 spg

McCoy was a question mark entering the year with injuries plaguing her previous seasons. But when Texas transfer Rellah Boothe went down, McCoy stepped up and has proven a smart post player and defender.

Cece Mayo, 5-9 sophomore guard/forward: A

Stats: 14.8 ppg, 72 FG percent, 4.9 rpg, 3.2 spg, 1.7 apg

Alayjah Sherer, 5-11 sophomore guard: B-

Stats: 7.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1 spg

Sherer's shown flashes of greatness with her instant offense off the bench, yet hasn't put it all together yet. Her conditioning needs to improve a bit to thrive in this up-tempo offense

Anastasiia Zakharova, 5-9 sophomore guard: B-

Stats: 4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, .8 spg

The native of Russia has come on strong of late after a poor shooting start, and her versatility and defense has been a pleasant surprise.

Gabriela Sales, 6-0 freshman: B-

Stats: 4.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, .7 bpg

Sales has flashed potential, yet she's still evolving. Walker called her a "diamond in the rough" that embodies the gym rat mentality.

Arielle Wilson, 6-6 freshman forward/center: Incomplete

Stats: 1.4 ppg, 2 rpg

Wilson's 7.8 minutes per game haven't showed much on the stat sheet, but the lean center has the shooting touch to make an impact in the second half.

Coaching Staff: A

Walker is not one to take the credit, nor is he one to heap praise on one individual. Instead he takes the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" approach with a coaching staff that includes assistant coaches Matt Shewmake, Zack Banks, Samaria Howard

From academics to workouts to scouting and one-on-one instruction, it's a tight, fiery staff that lives and breathes the game. The 12-0 record starts here.