Pittsfield Co-op Athlete of the Week: Nyanna Slaughter
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It's been a tough season for the Taconic girls' basketball team this year, but there have been some positive signs lately, particularly the play of junior center Nyanna Slaughter.
The 5-foot-10 inch post player has developed into quite the consistent player for second-year head coach Matt Mickle. She has five double-doubles on the year so far and, like her team, has been showing gradual improvement as the season goes along.
Last week, Slaughter just missed out on her sixth double-double of the year by scoring 15 points and pulling down nine rebounds in Taconic’s 55-51 win over Mount Greylock, giving the 2-13 Braves just their second win of the year. Three nights later, she scored six points and snagged a team-high 11 boards, as Taconic put a scare into league-leading Lee before losing 38-31.
"Ny's playing great," Mickle said. "She has turned herself into a leader this year. Two years ago, she went down with an ACL injury and had to have surgery. Last year, she played very tentative and held back a little. This year, she hasn’t missed a practice and has really been leading by example."
It was an up-and-down season at the start for Slaughter, but she seems to have really caught her stride over the past five games. It all started with a breakout, 22-point, 14-rebound effort in a loss to Monument Mountain in the Coaches vs. Cancer Showcase. Since then, Slaughter has been averaging 11.8 points per game and 9.8 boards per contest, helping raise both of her season averages. She is currently second on the team in scoring with a 9.33 ppg average and leads the squad with nine rebounds a game.
"She has been a steady player every night,” Mickle said. "She's someone you can count on. As a coach, it's nice to know that you can depend on her for at least 10 points and 10 rebounds a game."
Slaughter said the improvement in her game is tied in with the improved play of her team and the ability of the Braves' guards to find her more consistently in the post.
"I know at the beginning of the year, I felt like I was just running up and down the court," she said. "Now, it seems like my guards are looking for me inside and we've been able to start moving the ball inside and out better. Rebounding is just a part of my game that I’ve worked on and gotten better at."
While Slaughter's improved stats haven't translated into many wins for Taconic, it has helped Mickle’s club become much more competitive in games and increased its scoring output, something the Braves struggled mightily with in the first half of the year. Taconic averaged less than 34 points per game and only broke the 40-point mark twice in its first nine games. Over the past six contests, the Braves averaged just less than 47 points per game and have been held under 40 points on just one occasion.
"I think our whole team got off to a slow start this year," Mickle said. "As our whole team has evolved, it's been easier for Nyanna to get open looks in the post and create space in the paint. We struggled getting the ball to her in the post earlier in the season but now her teammates are looking for her more, and we've been able to establish more of a presence in the post because of that."
It's been a bigger attention to detail in practice and a more relaxed attitude during the games that Slaughter credits for her team's improvement on offense.
"We've been working hard in practice," she said. "We've been driving to the hoop more and that's helped us in the games. Coach tells us to attack certain spots on the court and, when we do that, it's been opening up other spots on the floor. We've stopped trying to run so many plays and now we're having more fun with it and playing better team basketball.
"We've worked so hard to get so far, but we haven't been able to pull out the Ws. Were always right there, so next year I'm hoping we can build on this season and incorporate more girls on the team. That way, we'll be a little deeper and we'll be able to have more fresh legs."