FORDYCE — Not so long ago, a talented freshman class helped lead Fordyce to a 22-9 record and an appearance in the 3A state girls basketball tournament in their own arena.
Now as juniors, Tyneisha Brazil, Alyssa English, Lacie Hulse, and Markeita Morris remember how important that season — and how painful missing out on last year’s state tournament — were.
“I think it’s motivated us to go a lot farther, especially with the seniors we have this year,” English said. “We’re really close with all of them, and we want to make it special for them.”
At 20-7, the Lady Bugs have given fourth-year head coach Ronald Smead his second 20-win season and — just like two years ago — a share of the 8-3A Conference championship. This time, Fordyce has earned the No. 1 seed for the 8-3A District Tournament, which begins Tuesday at Drew Central with Camden Harmony Grove taking on Smackover.
Fordyce, which has already qualified for the 3A Region 4 Tournament, will take on the winner of that game at 6:20 p.m. Wednesday.
The only thing that’s missing on Smead’s resume is a state tournament victory. Fordyce lost to Harding Academy in the first round in 2012 and missed out on last year’s state tourney after a first-round regional loss to Charleston.
Seniors Macy Moseley, Kennedy Grant and Alex Little have set the foundation for the Lady Bugs’ success in recent years, Smead said. And he uses that trio, along with guards English, Hulse and Morris, to build his team around.
“You have to have guards to build your team around,” Smead said. “You can’t get up and down the floor (without them).”
Along with post player Brazil, the juniors have been very successful in their basketball careers.
“As eighth-graders, they went undefeated in junior high,” Smead said. “Macy and Alex moved up to play with the senior high, so that left the eighth-graders as the leaders.”
Now, the juniors are three-year starters and the seniors four-year varsity players who have Fordyce in the driver’s seat for a district championship. When the regional tournament begins, all they’ll need is one victory to return to state.
Hulse is the Lady Bugs’ leading scorer, averaging somewhere within 15-18 points per game, Smead said. She’s also a standout defender with 4-5 steals per game.
English and Morris average about 10 points and 5-6 assists.
Smead said his team lacked “a little depth” last season, but that’s been addressed by the addition of a sophomore class that won a district championship in junior high. Although his tallest player this season is 5-feet-9, Fordyce has benefited from having a post player that was missing in 2012-13.
“Because of the depth, we couldn’t do things that I like to do,” Smead said. “There’s more of a slow tempo. Now, we’re able to get out and pressure people a little bit more. With the experience and talent that moved up, it makes all the difference in the world.”
A tougher schedule has also helped the Lady Bugs, who have earned victories against 4A teams Pulaski Robinson, Dumas, Arkadelphia and Warren and challenged 4A perennial power Star City and 5A Beebe before losing to them.
In 8-3A play, Fordyce has built a strong rivalry with McGehee, which handed the Lady Bugs their only conference loss 55-48 behind Shakyla Begnaud’s 33 points on Jan. 30. The two teams share the conference title with identical 7-1 league records, but Fordyce earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of a bigger margin of victory in head-to-head play, beating McGehee 55-43 on Jan. 14.
“Now that we’ve seen the tough teams, we’ve seen everything that anybody’s going to throw at us,” Hulse said.
The Lady Bugs’ most important game this season so far, in Smead’s mind, is their most recent, a 62-45 win at Drew Central on Friday to secure the top seed.
“They went out and really showed that they wanted it,” Smead said.
If the Lady Bugs win Wednesday, they can look forward to seeing either Drew Central or McGehee again in the final.
“We’re really looking forward to the district tournament and hopefully get that No. 1 seed for region,” Smead said.