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Mixing youth and experience is Blue Jays challenge


Mixing a team’s youth with their experience is perhaps the toughest challenge a coach can make. The absolute ideal structure for a team is that a player comes in as a freshman and barely sees the court while they learn the team, the system and how to play at the collegiate level. Then as a sophomore they gain a bigger role as a contributor off the bench. If they progress enough, they could become a starter as a junior, but definitely by the time they are a senior. Call that a utopian world for a college basketball coach.

But things are far from that easy. Sometimes, underclassmen are simply some of the players teams need to rely on. Maybe that bodes well for the future, but for the now, it can create situations of inconsistency and mental errors as sometimes players just aren’t prepared for every situation they might face.

A coach is the director who gets all the parts together and when they’re like Steven Spielberg the final product often looks like a masterpiece with no sign of the imperfections that may have been their before.

Entering her 30th season as the Johns Hopkins women’s basketball team’s head coach, Nancy Funk has plenty of experience to make up for what her team’s freshmen and sophomore’s lack. And she’s coached so many different teams; team’s all built differently with different styles and philosophies and makeups, that no matter how challenging of a job she might have, she’ll figure out a way to get all the pieces together.

Funk has a roster featuring just three seniors – one of whom is out of the country studying in Scotland until January. There are no juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen. Funk knows she has to heavily rely on Rachel Cook and Caroline Corcoran to lead the team as a duo before the third tri-captain, Janay Smith, returns in 2017. But she is very confident that even though her sophomores may be young in terms of years, they are probably the key to this season and ready for that role. Center Rory Cole received high praise from Funk for her ability to dominate inside. Guards Lexie Scholtz and Lillian Scott both played significant numbers of minutes as freshman and were said to be playing well above the level of a sophomore.

But while Funk said she is more than confident in the pieces she has right now, she also expects there to be changes to the lineup all year long as she perfects the lineups and rotations she is putting out there.

Nancy Funk sat down with So Much Sports Baltimore to preview this year’s team:

Johns Hopkins women’s basketball coach Nancy Funk on…

Excitement about getting back to basketball and preparing for the upcoming season:

“There are always a lot of unknowns at this time last year. We found out a lot in a scrimmage we had; saw some very good things from our younger players and I’m excited about the mix we got. We got five freshmen and six sophomores so that is the bulk of the team. We have three seniors and they are a big part of the equation. Combining those classes is going to be a big of a challenge but I’m starting to see them get excited about playing together and finding each other. If I could just get them to have a little more patience on the court, developing the offense I think we’ll be okay. They’re making a lot of errors in enthusiasm, which I’d rather have than the other types of errors. I’m very, very optimistic about this team getting strong and stronger as the season progresses.”

Leaning on seniors with an otherwise young team:

“Janay (Smith) is overseas right now. She’s a captain but is fortunately not here. Rachel (Cook) and Caroline (Corcoran) are carrying the load until Janay gets back in January but think Rachel and Caroline are doing a great job of connecting with younger players. Their enthusiasm is very positive and they have a genuine interest in bringing the younger players along because everybody wins on that.”

Caroline Corcoran

Caroline Corcoran

How Janay’s overseas trip going:

“She is in Scotland studying. It’s though Hopkins. It’s her international opportunity she decided to take. She was selected for this. She asked, thought we wouldn’t even allow her to play and I said ‘absolutely we want you to play and go do this while you’re young and have a chance to do something that’s pretty phenomenal.’ She applied for it, got selected and the great thing is she got a playbook. She’s learning a couple things. It’s going to take her a little while to get her timing down and have that understanding of what we’re looking for in certain plays but she pretty much knows our defensive system and it should be a short learning curve.”

Conversions with Rachel and Caroline about their leadership role:

“We had a preseason meeting about the captains from our eyes and the role of the captains from their eyes so we could meet in the middle and combine it into almost a job description that they have embraced; keeping people focused in practice, keeping the fun in it but at the same time making sure our work ethic doesn’t slip and our energy level doesn’t slip. They are doing a great job of being vocal and calling huddles when they’re needed. Our jobs as coaches are making them good leaders by putting them in situation where they have to step up and they have responded beautifully.”

The post:

“Sophomore Rory Cole does some things Rachel doesn’t do so the two of them will share that (center) spot. Rachel has good stats coming into the year and Rory had 17 points in a scrimmage and seven rebounds. They put in almost an equal number of minutes. Rachel is a different kind of player than Rory. Rachel has some range so she is a little more versatile in that regard but Rory is your traditional, old-school, back to the basket post player and you have to have somebody like that on your team. I’m looking for Rory and Rachel to stay fresh and play tough because we’re going to have a presence in the post in order to be competitive.”

Progression of the sophomore class:

“Three of them are not playing like sophomores. Rory, our starting point guard and shooting guard (Lexie Scholtz and Lillian Scott) are in that sophomore class and they got some significant time last year as freshmen so I look at them right now as good as it gets for a sophomore class to come in, to be ready to get right out there.”

Early season challenges and what they need to do to be prepared for conference play:

“The biggest test outside Messiah will be Emory. They are in a conference that has perennial two to three teams in the NCAAs every year. We used to be in that conference (UAA – University Athletic Association) actually until 2001 when we got out but it’s one of the most competitive conference for Division III women in the country. Emory remained a member of that conference and is someone we played in years past and about three years ago we played them down at their place and had a pretty good battle against them. Knowing the style of play in the UAA and the style of play of Emory, that’s going to be a game we got to stay in it with our defense. They are fast and got some talented shooters. We’re going to have to try some different things in that game and experience with some pressures because on Tuesday right after we’re right in the thick of it with a conference game against McDaniel. It’s a game they always get up for and our girls get up for it because it’s a huge in-state rivalry but it’s a tough one to start with in the conference. McDaniel is a good program.”

Who has stepped up to give the team depth:

“If we can impose our style of play as an up-tempo team and a pressure defense than we’ll have a deep rotation for the shear reason that people need to rest. Ideally, if you’re able to go all out and a player needs to rest we’re able to go to the bench. Our freshman class is very talented and learning our system right now and are coming along very, very well and I saw some excellent things from them in the scrimmage. Any one of them could contend for a larger role. There are a couple that are ahead of the pack that could see time. I originally thought we probably could only go nine deep but after the scrimmage we might even be able to go 10 early until we see how the freshmen can do as part of it. We’re going to rely on the combination of seniors and sophomores to primarily be our core and that starting lineup could change game-to-game depending on who we’re matching up again. In recent past we were able to go 12 deep. I don’t know if that’s going to be the case this year, but it’s so early and we’re still untested.”

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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