By Becky Kimbrell-Norris
WAKE FOREST — If there were any opening night nerves, Franklin Academy’s girls’ basketball team quickly disposed of them.
The Patriots rolled into the 2013-14 season with an impressive 51-30 win against Lighthouse in the team’s season opener November 7.
“I was pleased with the way the girls responded to their first game of the season,” said Franklin Academy girls basketball coach Erin Thornton. “I expected them to be dominated a little more by their nerves, especially since we have so many freshmen this season.”
Hoping to experiment with her new players and rotations, Thornton couldn’t have scripted a better start as her team raced to a 15-1 first quarter lead and never looked back.
“I think our goal is to always set the tone of the game from the tip-off,” Thornton said. “Some nights we are more effective than others but against Lighthouse, we were able to get some steals and then knock down some big shots. It got our crowd involved too, which was fun for the girls.”
Everyone on the Franklin Academy roster got some quality playing time.
“That was huge for us,” Thornton said. “We were even able to have nine girls score. I think that playing time will help the younger girls with their confidence as the season progresses.”
The Patriots scored the first 14 points of the game and much of that was done by senior shooting guard Catie Keel, who had eight points in that stretch, including two three-pointers.
“We’ve been really focusing on creating game like pressure in practice so that our good shooting will carry over into the games,” Thornton said. “I believe we were able to see the first signs of that working for us.”
“The girls were able to have their feet ready and square their shoulders to the basket before they caught the ball so that they weren’t rushing their shots,” she added.
Thornton was also happy with her team’s defensive effort, which caused Lighthouse to turn the ball over frequently.
“The girls know that the way they play defense carries over into their offense,” she said. “We had talked all week about having energy on defense so that steals could turn into easy layups.”
“I thought the guards did an excellent job of having active hands and playing the passing lanes, Thornton added. “We do, however, need to work on our defense in the paint but it was a solid start.”
Franklin Academy outscored their visitors 18-12 in the second quarter, thanks to some solid free throw shooting and eight points from junior Amelia Huffman and their lead at the break was 33-13.
“At the end of the first half, I asked the statistician to tell me how many turnovers we had and I was pleased when there were no turnovers to report,” Thornton said.
“Not turning the ball over is a major indication to me that the girls were able to relax and let the game come to them,” she added.
McKenzie Goodwine’s two free throws at the start of the third quarter gave the Patriots a 23-point lead at 40-17.
Zuzanna Slawinska scored a bucket to close the quarter, giving Franklin Academy a 44-22 advantage, heading into the fourth period.
Huffman led the Patriots in scoring with 15. Goodwine added nine and Keel contributed eight.
Brianna Henderson paced Franklin Academy under the boards, pulling down seven rebounds.
“Moving forward this season, there are many things that we will be striving to improve upon,” Thornton said. “Our help defense is something that has to get better for those coming off the bench, who want to contribute.”
“Rebounding is also something we need to be more consistent at,” Thornton added. “Rebounding is a mindset and I would like our guards to be more determined rebounders and not to assume that rebounding is a post player’s job.”
But overall, Thornton sees much potential for her team this season.
“What we do with our potential will determine what kind of season we will have,” she said.
Franklin Academy will play at New Life Storm today at 7:30 p.m.