After capturing its first regional championship in 23 years and the majority of its players expected to return, Carroll entered the off-season looking loaded for a run at another SAC title and eyes on a state run.
But the off-season wasn’t kind as twins Nevaeh and Saniya Jackson transferred to Northrop to follow mom Katie Jackson as she was hired as the girls’ basketball coach for the Bruins.
While only two players, the loss of the Jackson girls, plus the expected graduations of leading scorer Emily Parrett and fellow senior Delane Sheets, has the Chargers now in a spot in which they return just one of their top five scorers.
“We are losing a great core of talent,” said Coach Mark Redding. “But this team is still young and talented from last year’s regional championship squad.”
Enough with the negatives. Despite the unexpected departures, the Chargers have a lot of talent on the roster. Junior Taylor Fordyce was, other than Parrett, the only Carroll player to average in double figures last season at 10.5 points per game.
“Taylor is a solid player on the defensive and offensive ends,” Redding said. “She is a consistent shooter and very effective on driving to the basket.”
Lexi Castator came up huge in the playoff run and was one of the top freshmen in the area in her rookie campaign.
“Alexis is a consistent shooter and so good going to the hoop,” Redding said. “With her size, she is a difficult matchup.”
Meanwhile, another junior in Kayla Gibbs is an all-around talent that should break out after a solid sophomore campaign.
“Kayla is very good moving without the ball on offense and reads defenses very well,” Redding said. “She has improved her outside shooting and is an outstanding defensive player.”
Carroll’s 25-win season last year was exciting to watch. Buoyed by a 22-game victory streak from December to February, the Chargers swept through the sectional then knocked off McCutcheon and nemesis Homestead on the same day to win the regional title. A loss to eventual state champ Crown Point did little to damper the overall enthusiasm for a campaign that saw the Chargers vault to the top of the area’s best squads.
What can the Chargers do for an encore? The departures will hurt, but Coach Redding has been around a bit to the tune of 334 career wins, so don’t expect a substantial dropoff.
Senior Brooke Pocock will see an expanded role in the backcourt and may end up directing the offense at the point. Fellow seniors Natalie Linnemeier, Jasmine Anderson, Gabby Beeman and Tori Straley will all be needed to elevate their game as they look to pick up the scoring slack lost from a team that averaged over 66 points per game in 2020-21.
In terms of newcomers, Redding has a pair of guards to keep an eye on in junior Anna Vie and freshman Jersey Paul.
Overall, do not expect the Carroll approach to change. This is a team that loves to be interchangeable with the players who can rebound and push the ball up court to get the offense in front of the defense. While it isn’t as loaded as we thought the Chargers would be in terms of personnel, the combination of Redding and a very good group of talent will be enough for Carroll to be a factor all season long.
After 14 consecutive losses to rival Homestead, Carroll climbed over the massive Spartan roadblock last year with a pair of wins. There is no reason to believe that the Chargers cannot continue to be highly competitive with Homestead this year. While there are some missing pieces from a year ago, the youthful talent should be able to step up and deliver.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
Not to harp on two players, but the loss of the Jackson twins hurts. The juniors were expected to lead the way this year for a Carroll team that was absolutely loaded.
Instead, the Jacksons are at Northrop, and Redding is looking at some younger players who will be thrust into bigger roles because of it. It may take a bit longer to hit their stride, but the Chargers should still flirt with a 20-win season.
Dec. 3 at Homestead
This one is obvious. These two squads may end up being the elite of the SAC again, and a Friday showdown in early December could be the de facto league championship game.
Taylor Fordyce, junior
Where does this team go for leadership? Emily Parrett held that down a year ago, but with her gone, a void is at the top. Fordyce has been through the battles and, while just a junior, could command the respect as a team leader.
As the top returning scorer, Fordyce will need to handle some of the scoring load as newbies grow acclimated, but it is her role in the huddle that may end up being the pivotal role to play this year.