Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Mountain View's Tynisha Bledsoe leads a drill during a recent practice. The Bears are off to a 7-1 start this season after going just 3-20 last year.
For the first two basketball seasons at Mountain View, the girls players just weren't there. Glimpses of talent showed, but the sheer number of players on the roster was underwhelming.
Only a small group showed up at tryouts for the 2009-10 inaugural season and last season's team was thin on depth as well for the young school. With sickness and injuries mounting a season ago, head coach Jackie Lindquist frequently glanced at a mostly empty set of chairs beside her.
That seems like a distant memory now.
The Bears are having a breakout season, with playing experience and a strong influx of freshmen giving Lindquist the first depth she's had at Mountain View.
It's a combination that has the Bears with a 7-1 record (2-0 in Region 7-AAAAA), a great improvement already over last season's 3-22 mark.
"We had a freshman class come over from Twin Rivers (Middle) that's a talented group of young ladies and they've added a lot of depth," Lindquist said. "That makes it better at practices, at games. You've got more players available to put in for certain situations. And our older kids are getting more experience and just coming together as a team.
"We're still very young. We've only got one senior in the program. But right now we're playing to win and before we were playing not to lose. They're believing in themselves, which is awesome."
A good portion of that belief stems from one victory.
The Bears edged rival Mill Creek 43-42 last week, getting their first victory over one of the state's top programs over the last decade. Down by three at halftime, they rallied late and took control against the Hawks, who were down four to Mountain View before hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"Absolutely, that (Mill Creek win) was big for their confidence," said Lindquist, who previously coached at Central Gwinnett and Berkmar before taking the Mountain View job. "I told them before the game, not one person in the gym believes we can beat (Mill Creek) or even play with them. But we stepped up."
Tynisha Bledsoe, the team's lone senior, has delivered from the start this season. She averages a team-high 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds, getting a boost on the offensive end from newcomer Kelsey Hutchins (10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds), who sat out last season after transferring from Dacula.
Iceis Walker (8.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.1 steals) has jumped into the lineup with exceptional defense, while fellow freshman Aneysa Williams is the starting point guard. Bria Virgil, Kiana Carmichael and Trinity Rogers also have been major contributors for a team that uses a heavy rotation of players.
Carmichael, Rodgers, Jade Manning and Tierra Young are the four holdovers who were on Mountain View's inaugural varsity team two seasons ago.
"It's very, very exciting for the girls to get some wins," Lindquist said. "They're starting to believe."
Now they have to handle success for the first time, along with a substantial break. Mountain View beat West Hall last Saturday and won't play again until the Dec. 28-30 Longhorns Holiday Classic at Lanier.
The Bears hope to keep their momentum going despite that 18-day layoff.
"We're starting to see (the work) pay off," Lindquist said. "But we're still young. We're very, very young. And we have a limited amount of height. And our region's no joke. But the girls are playing really well right now."