Ricky Lofton Girls Coach of the Year
By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on March 23, 2008 2:03 AM
Southern Wayne experienced the biggest turnaround of any girls' team in the News-Argus area this past season.
The Saints logged a winless Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference campaign a year ago, and lost their head coach, Chuck Crumpler. Assistant Ricky Lofton took over this season and became the program's fifth head coach in this decade.
"When you come off a losing year, and the team gets a new coach, you never know exactly what to expect," Lofton said. "But the girls came out and got better. The biggest thing was the confidence that they found as they learned to play together."
And they forgot about middle school rivalries.
Players from Brogden, Mount
Olive and Grantham Middle Schools comprised this year's team. Lofton made sure those petty differences were benched before the season
"The first thing to realize is that they are teammates now," said Lofton.
Somehow, it all worked.
The Saints fashioned a 16-11 record and finished 6-4 in Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference play. Their season ended with a second-round playoff loss at then-unbeaten South Central, which fell to ECC member and state runner-up Wilson Beddingfield in the eastern regional final.
For his efforts, Lofton is the 2007-08 News-Argus All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
"I am shocked that I would win an award for being a coach of the year," said a surprised, but humbled Lofton. "I'm honored."
Lofton quickly credited the recognition to his players.
Their ability to grow into a unit as the season progressed proved crucial.
"As we got into practice and into games, the girls started to believe in each other and that made a big difference in our level of play," said Lofton.
Southern Wayne came oh-so-close to knocking off Beddingfield twice and gave county archrival Eastern Wayne fits during both meetings. Either an extra loose rebound, a free throw or jumper that drops instead of bouncing off the iron could have transpired into an 8-2 or 9-1 ECC ledger.
Lofton said that All-Area picks Shakoria Clark and Lynnesha Leonard played integral roles in the Saints' season.
"We would have certainly had an uphill battle without those two," said Lofton. "Shakoria did a very good job of running our offense. She was a floor general for us when we needed that kind of leadership. She also worked hard over the summer and in practice, which paid off in the games.
"Lynnesha can do anything that she sets her mind to. She was always there in the clutch moments, and her ability to play underneath or to step out made her a tough matchup for teams."
Graduation will take away some key players, but Lofton expects to return at least six varsity members next season. His biggest challenge will be finding someone to run the system.
"I have to go out and find a point guard who can step in and take things over," he said. "We can't run an offense without someone to manage it. I get some good players back next year, so it's not all bad.
"We'll bring some girls up from junior varsity and work on things from there."
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