PEMBROKE — Just over a month after wrapping up a successful softball season in which she was named Robeson County pitcher of the year, JaiLeana Deese traded in her bat and glove for a basketball.
As a rising senior on Purnell Swett’s girls basketball team, Deese is ready to take on a leadership role for the Lady Rams in the fall.
“It feels good right now because it’s my senior year,” Deese said. “It feels good to get back on the court with people I’ve played with since middle school.”
Deese and the Lady Rams scrimmaged teams from around the region at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s team camp on Friday.
“We’re super young,” head coach Danyel Jolicoeur said. “I mainly came with freshmen and girls that played jayvee last year and only four of my varsity players from last year. We’re learning each other. We’re learning how to play and learning what to do in varsity-type situations. I think some of the girls are getting a really good taste of what being a varsity player entails.”
Those younger players will have a chance to compete for roles on the varsity squad after five seniors graduated this year, including all-county selection Nakyra Mitchell.
The departure of those seniors meant that seasoned players like Deese would need need to take over their roles while taking the team’s less experienced players under their wings.
Deese, who ran the offense for a portion of the team camp, said she is up to the task.
“It makes me want to step my game up a little bit because I’m going to be out there and I’m going to be the one they’re looking at.”
Jolicoeur said several of the Lady Rams had been doing well with adjusting to the team’s new-look offense early in the summer.
“It’s definitely different, of course,” Jolicoeur said. “For the play today, I’ve already seen players from jayvee and players from varsity last year just step up and keep rolling. Anything new will be different the first time around.”
The Lady Rams finished 5-17 last season while not having access to their home gym for almost the entire year due to construction on its roof. The team snapped a 42-game losing streak in conference play with a win over Scotland in February.
Jolicoeur said many players have stepped their effort to improve over the offseason. For multi-sport athletes like Deese, that meant quickly adjusting training regimens between spring and fall.
“There’s a big difference (between basketball and softball),” Deese said. “It’s a whole different thing. I’m not in basketball shape right now.”
As the team gets back into shape, they will be working on making adjustments based on what they saw at camp.
“We’ve seen a lot of stuff that we need to work on and a lot of stuff that’s really good,” Deese said. “We’ve come a long way.”
“A lot of the girls have stepped up,” Jolicoeur said. “I’m looking forward to getting them and teaching them the expectations of the varsity level.”
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.