By John Miller
After serving under the direction of long-time coach Jeni Hopkins, the Hillcrest Lady Hornets have a new leader.
Justin Gerald, a Hillcrest grad who coached the past few seasons at Miller, is the new head coach and he’s excited for the opportunity.
“I’m very excited about the group of girls I have in our program this year,” said Gerald, who was an all-state selection and the Springfield Quarterback Club’s All-City in MVP as a running back/defensive back for the Hornets. “Jeni has done a great job instilling great values into this program. That’s the first thing I recognized when I watched these girls play over the summer.”
Hopkins spent the past 16 years at Hillcrest and the previous eight years at Greenwood Laboratory School. She retires with a career record of 332-206, claiming six district titles, and leading Hillcrest to the state final four in 2015.
Along with losing its coach, the Hornets also graduated four starters from last year’s team that finished 16-12 and won a district title with a 54-40 victory over Rogersville.
Graduated seniors include Kaycee Gerald, Laurnea Jarman, Mikayla McCullough, and Jordan Pryor. Gerald was a first team all-state pick last year while Jarman was named honorable mention all-conference.
With so much talent now graduated, Hillcrest will lean on the play of its few returners: junior Whitney Williams and sophomore Sara Hale.
Williams has the most varsity experience on the team and is one of the most athletic players in the area. She qualified for state in track last year as a sophomore in the 100-meter dash. “Whitney is a special athlete,” Gerald said. “With her athleticism and experience, she has the ability to be a top post player in the area. I look forward to watcher her help this team do some really good things this year.”
Hale will run point for Hillcrest and has the ability to take the ball to the rim when she wants. “Sara is a very hard worker,” Gerald said. “She strives to be perfect, and sometimes, that gets in her way. If I can get her to understand that mistakes are going to happen, she will be a top point guard in this area.”
Hillcrest also was looking forward to having Jasmin Johnson back this year, but she recently tore her ACL and will miss the entire season. “At the end of this summer, Jasmin had really turned the corner of becoming a great basketball player,” Gerald said. “Now, we’ll look for her to be a part of this team as a leader and a player’s coach.”
Four newcomers will be relied on heavily this season for the Lady Hornets: seniors Kaitlyn Maxwell and Chia Brooks and sophomores Makenzie Kendrick and Kelly Tran.
“Our team motto this year will be, ‘There are no failures, only lessons,” Gerald said. “Getting my players to understand that there is a process to becoming successful will be a main focus for our program in its early going. We also want our players to understand sometimes we don’t get the overall outcome we were looking for, but it doesn’t mean we’ve failed. As long as we can understand why we didn’t reach our overall outcome we were looking for, then we’ve learned something. As long as we’re learning, we are becoming successful.”