by Becky Kimbrell-Norris
WAKE FOREST — There were some good moments last season for the Franklin Academy girl’s basketball team.
The Patriots won 16 games and finished their 2012-13 season in the second round of the state 1A playoffs.
Losing just two players to graduation and with three starters returning, Franklin Academy girls’ basketball coach Erin Thornton is confident that the Patriots will be at team to be reckoned with once again.
“It’s hard to tell what our team will be like this early but I believe the big difference from last year is that we will be much more balanced on both sides of the floor,” Thornton said. “We have a group of extremely capable players and any of them could contribute at any given time.”
Thornton added that the Patriots have a veteran group of guards who she expects to take good care of the basketball along with a tough group of forwards who have improved their rebounding and offensive game, collectively.
“We are still working on shoring up our team goals, Thornton said. “I’ve given each player a personal goal though in order to motivate them to improve individually so we can improve together.”
“As a team, I know we would love to win our conference championship and make a good run into the state playoffs,” Thornton added.
Franklin Academy will begin play this season as a member of the North Central Athletic Conference, a new league for them this season.
“The conference has a core group of some of the same schools as our conference last season,” Thornton said. “We are excited to be a part of it and hope to have great success within it.”
In addition to the Patriots, members of the new conference include: East Wake Academy, Kestrel Heights, Raleigh Charter, River Mill Academy, Roxboro Community, Voyager Academy and Woods Charter.
Thornton said she is counting on three seniors and one junior to be the team leaders this season.
Seniors McKenzie Goodwine, Catie Keel and Olivia Cooper and Amelia Huffman, a junior are those players Thornton expects big things from this season.
Keel, a team captain, brings a steadying atmosphere to the court, according to Thornton.
“She has been developing her ball-handling skills and is going to be looked for to score and distribute the basketball,” Thornton said.
Goodwine, another captain, is known as a defensive specialist.
“She has worked hard to improve her offensive game,” Thornton said. “She is our fastest player and we will look to her to add the spark that our offense and defense will need.”
Goodwine was second in steals last season with 76.
Cooper led the Patriots in rebounds with 171 and had 31 blocks in 2012.
“She is a true forward,” Thornton said. “She has worked hard improving her offensive game close to the basket. She is our best rebounder and this year we need her to contribute more on offense as she finishes those offensive rebounds.”
Huffman, another captain, is Franklin Academy’s most natural scorer.
She averaged double digits last season and has been working hard in the off-season to improve her shot and speed, said Thornton.
The Patriots also have several new faces on their roster, who will be contributors including freshman Dara McCluskey.
“She will add some quality minutes off the bench as well as freshmen Claire Batton and Allison Honeycutt.” Thornton said.
Franklin Academy is definitely setting goals to improve on what was a good 20-12-13 season.
“There were a few aspects of our game that need to improve in order for us to meet our goals,” Thornton said.
One of those aspects is finishing layups. “Last year we were plagued by missed shots in the paint,” she said. “Those are must haves this year.”
“It’s also about physical and mental toughness, which was lacking last season,” Thornton added.
The Patriots will also have to take better care of the basketball after committing 493 turnovers last season.
“If we can consistently have 12 or less turnovers a game, we are going to give ourselves more opportunities to score,” Thornton said. “The only way to accomplish that goal of fewer turnovers is by being mentally engaged on every play. Turnovers are generally a result of mental fatigue.”
Thornton said she loves the attitude of the team. “We have many new players but the attitude of the team is universal,” she said. “The girls are tough and they are anxious to be a part of something really special this season.”
Franklin Academy will open the 2013-14 season tonight (Thursday) at 6 p.m. when they host Lighthouse.