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Academy gets even stronger

What will Kysha Herald add to the Academy of the Holy Names' basketball team?

"About 23 points a game, inside and outside," said AHN coach Craig Keeler about the impact of his new forward. And that's just the contribution you can quantify.

Herald, who plays with tremendous power for a player just 5 feet 9, also gives Academy a big banger inside, something the guard-dominated Jaguars have lacked in the past. Her scoring prowess also will take some of the heat off Sherisha Hills, who might become even more of a force than she already is.

"She adds a lot more rebounding," said Hills of Herald. "She's so much stronger than anyone we've had. Before, if we were in the half-court offense, we didn't have anybody inside. She'll be a huge addition."

After spending her first two years at Robinson, where she averaged more than 25 points and 10 rebounds a game as a junior, Herald transferred to Academy over the summer. Not only did she want a challenging academic environment, but moving also allows her to play her senior season with a team that has advanced to the state final four each of the last three years, winning it all in 1996.

Herald's on-court transition has been smooth. She's familiar with Keeler's system, having played four years of summer ball for him. Much of that experience also included suiting up with several of her current teammates. In all, she only has to learn about a half-dozen plays.

"I think I can bring a little more aggressiveness inside," Herald said. "We're just trying to get to the state finals. That's the most important thing."

A complete player, Herald also has the ability to run, an important skill for the Jaguars, who press constantly to offset their lack of height. Kelly Jackson at 5-11 and the 5-10 Essence Williams are Keeler's tallest players in a front court that lacks depth, having lost 5-9 forward Erika Sims, who went to Tampa Prep.

"We will be all over the court," said Keeler, describing the ordered chaos of the Jaguar press. It's a strategy that has worked in the past, and Keeler is loaded with guards.

There's Hills, of course, who will take over for Kyleen Charlton at the point. Backing her up will be junior Meghan Jensen. Also in the mix are sophomore Stephanie Merrill, who averaged 25 points a game for the JV Jaguars last year, and sophomore Liz O'Connor, who started for Keeler throughout her freshman year, averaging 14 points a game.

O'Connor is small (just 5-6{), but lightning quick and excellent in the transition game, which makes her a potent weapon for the Jaguars both offensively and defensively.

"Instead of two key players, we have about four," O'Connor said. "Now we don't have to be so dependent on Sherisha. We'll still be using the press, but with Kysha we'll have better rebounding, which should lead to more fast breaks."

Still, Academy's backbone is Hills, who is healthy following two knee surgeries to repair a torn ACL and fully focused, having already committed to Notre Dame.

"I feel so much better than last year when I started playing tentatively," she said. "I think now I can really focus on this year.

"The whole deal is to build up for districts and beyond," said Keeler, who has lined up a brutal regular-season schedule jam-packed with top tournaments to toughen his team up.