After going winless last season, head coach Jarred Soles sat at home over the summer brainstorming a way to build unity in a group of players that had endured an environment where deflecting blame had become the easy choice.
Soles found his solution by remembering what he missed most about his playing days: road trips with his teammates.
Then, Soles found the setting by returning to his alma mater, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
From Friday, Dec. 13 to Sunday Dec. 15, Soles and the Lady Lions took a weekend trip to UVA-Wise for an escape that offered competition and camaraderie.
“I think the main thing that I hope we took away from the trip is that the girls became better friends off the court,” Soles said. “Last year, our team early struggled with that. I’m not sure how many were friends off the court, and you could tell on the court. When something went wrong, everyone was pointing fingers.”
So far, his solution seems to hold water. With a 43-39 victory over Charlottesville on Tuesday – a team that Soles had never beaten in his three years as head coach – the Lady Lions moved their record to 4-2 and now sit behind just Monticello (4-1) in the district.
Soles said most of the credit for the team’s success this season has been their adaption of a different mindset. An event on the team’s trip to UVA-Wise gave a small window into the maturation of the Lady Lions’ ever-growing mental fortitude.
After a seven-hour drive to the college’s campus in southwest Virginia on Friday, Dec. 13, the Lady Lions came out flat and were soundly defeated 82-24 by Central High School – a recently consolidated local high school.
After the loss, Soles gathered his team, hoping to avoid an avalanche of apathy that buried the team last season.
“[Central] played with more heart, more effort and more passion,” Soles said. “After the game, I told the girls, ‘I’m not trying to be a drama king, but this type of loss, if you let it, can have that snowball effect. Our season could go to pieces.’ When you lose by that much, if not a wake-up call, then you’re cashing in your season already.”
Soles spoke. His players listened.
The Lady Lions went on to defeat Burton the very next day 57-32 behind the scoring of Bre’Shae Bell (19 points), Nya Anderson (17 points) and Breon Washington (10 points).
“Obviously, we weren’t playing the same team, but we weren’t the same team either,” Soles said. “It was evident right from the opening tip that we were a different team.”
It must have been apparent that Louisa was a different team to Charlottesville as well in their game on Tuesday, Dec. 17. The Black Knights’ two defeats over Louisa last season were by an average of 17.5 points. The Lions four point win over Charlottesville this season – behind Bell’s 24 point effort – signals to Soles and his squad that they can do something that once seemed like a foreign concept: win district games.
“Our district games are tough,” Soles said. “It’s going to take a tremendous effort to win every night.”
The Lions will have a chance to snag another district win before Christmas break on Friday, Dec. 20, when the team travels to Orange County (2-2).
And though the Lady Lions are winning more frequently now than they have in years thanks to a different mindset, Soles knows that for that trend to continue, he’ll have to maintain his.
“We still have a long ways to go,” Soles said. “I know coaches say that all the time, but the teams in our district are very good.”