Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier asst. sports editor
After playing through the winter break, Berry’s basketball teams are finding their rhythm as they enter the second half of the season.
While most students where headed home for the holidays, both basketball teams were competing in tournaments and conference games. The men’s team won six out of eight games over this period, and head coach Mitch Cole said he was pleased with the team’s holiday performances.
“I think we played really well,” Cole said. “We ended up winning two different tournaments, one at Rhodes and one at Oglethorpe. I think our team had a couple of close wins that helped us learn how to win close games, but we also had a game or two where we had to learn some valuable lessons, so I think overall our guys played pretty well during the break.”
Things were harder for the women’s team, which suffered several injuries to key players. Head coach Thomas Johnson said people often do not realize basketball is a contact sport, but these setbacks are part of the game. He also said they gave a chance to some players who would not usually get as much game time.
“Injuries are something you cannot predict or prepare for, so when somebody goes down you have to step up,” Johnson said.
Senior forward McKenzie Smith, one of the players to get injured, said her teammates did just that when the time came. However, she said these injuries disrupted the team dynamics, as players came in and out of the lineup.
“I think we’re just slowly trying to figure out our role, everybody’s role,” Smith said. “I think that when it’s time for somebody to step up, they do, so that’s a good thing. Then, for me, coming back, it’s harder to figure out. It’s not that we have a new identity, but we have to find our place on the team.”
Team chemistry is therefore important, and the holiday period is a prime time to work on it, according to both coaches. For Cole, this comes from the lack of classes providing his players more of an opportunity to hang out.
“I think the guys are building camaraderie over the break,” Cole said. “When school’s not in session they spend a lot of time together practicing, eating meals together, so it’s just been a good time to build a good, strong bond.”
Meanwhile, the women’s team participated in a tournament in New York, and the players got to explore the city as a team. While bonding was an important goal of the trip, it was not the only one according to Johnson.
“Traditionally for us it’s been about the bonding thing,” Johnson said. “We try to take them places where educationally they can learn some things and hopefully some places they’ve never gone, as long as it fits within our budget. And then secondly, it’s the competition, just to face different people, different styles of play. All of that helps us when we come back and we get ready for conference play.”
Now that they are back, the team is ready to push on. Johnson said that, considering their injuries, the team is doing okay and their goals for the season remain the same.
“Our goals and objectives are still the same,” Johnson said. “They become a little bit more challenging because of lack of personnel, but our goals are not going to change. Like I said, it’s next person down. We still want a conference championship, we still want to make it to the NCAA tournament, we still feel like we got enough depth and talent to do that. Some kids have got to rise to the occasion a little bit more, but then our goals are still the same.”
For Smith, the confidence to reach these objectives is there. The team sits on three consecutive wins, and she said they are only getting better. “I think we’re stronger this second half,” Smith said.
“I think we’re working harder, our defense is getting better. I think we’re slowly but surely coming along as a team.”
Similarly, the men’s team is also looking to finish strong according to Cole.
“We want to peak in February, that’s when we want to be at our best,” Cole said. “When conference is coming to an end and postseason play begins, that’s when we want to be at our peak, so we still have plenty of room for improvement, and what we talk about each day is just daily and weekly improvement.”
In order to do that, both coaches agreed that home support could be crucial. Johnson said the team were fortunate to get good crowds from the community over the break and he would love to see more students come out now that they are back on campus. As for Cole, he emphasized how important that support is to the teams.
“We’d like to invite everybody out for our last three home games in February and really get the Cage Center rocking,” Cole said. “It gives our team an extra boost of energy when we see the students and the community out, so it’s just a great environment to watch college basketball.”
Both teams will resume conference play when they travel to Birmingham-Southern College this Friday, the first of four away games. They will then close out their regular season with three consecutive home games, starting with Centre College on Friday, Feb. 7.