Parity was the name of the girls basketball game last year in the Mountain Valley 1A/2A Athletic Conference.
Alleghany, Ashe County and Wilkes Central finished in a three-way tie for the league championship with identical 11-3 marks, while West Wilkes was only a game back at 10-4.
The loaded Blackhawks return nine players from that team, while the Eagles have seven returners, creating high expectations at both schools.
The East girls lost in the first round of the 1A state playoffs to finish 4-20 under Coach Matthew Campbell. They were 2-12 in the conference race, good for seventh.
Four seniors must be replaced, including leading scorer Ava Tharpe, an all-MVAC pick. Campbell’s young squad includes four freshmen.
“All the ladies are working hard and continue to improve daily,” said Campbell. “We expect to be competitive every night, and although we are young, our knowledge and ability continue to grow.”
Returning to the Ronda hardwood are sophomore guard Briley Church, senior forward Kaleigh Couch, sophomore guard/forward Lilly Adams, junior forward Killian Warren and junior guard Jordyn Bailey.
Church and Adams were honorable mention all-league after each averaged 5 points per game last year. Church is “really good at scoring off the dribble, especially midrange (shots),” said Campbell.
Couch, said Campbell, “will help with defending the lane and does a solid job of rebounding. Bailey was injured part of last year and is a “really good athlete who will help apply defensive pressure.”
Warren is a “good rebounder and does a great job of attacking the basket,” according to Campbell.
Senior guard Lily Brown, said Campbell, “will help with defensive intensity and aggressive play.”
Campbell indicated that Macie Bell, a junior guard, will contribute with her outside shooting and ball handling.
The freshmen quartet is comprised of Kierstin Johnson, Kyleigh Lane, Peyton Mastin and Payton Spicer.
Johnson is a guard/forward who will add depth and size to both positions. “She will help with rebounding and has the skill set and size to play any position.”
Lane is a forward who “understands the game, does a good job at getting post position and defends the post well.”
Campbell noted that guards Mastin and Spicer “add depth and knowledge at the guard position, have a knack for anticipating on the floor, are good passers and have good skill sets.”
The North girls fell in the opening round of the 2A state playoffs to finish 14-12. In conference play, the Vikings were sixth with a 6-8 mark.
Coach Steven Phillips, entering his seventh season, must replace seven seniors, including point guard Anna Phillips and Rachel Winkler, both MVAC honorable mention picks, and all-leaguer Liz Martin.
North’s top returners are seniors McKenzie Johnson — the team’s leading scorer last year at 10.2 points per game —Shelby Roal and Makayla Cornelius.
Johnson, an all-conference guard who has committed to Ferrum College, is a key scorer and defender, said Phillips. “She is a great shooter and all-around great player.”
Roal, a forward who averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds, is another all-around great player, according to Phillips. “She has lots of athleticism, can run and jump, shoots well and can get to the line.”
A wing, Cornelius averaged 7.7 points and 2.5 rebounds last year and made 41 3-pointers, the most by a player in Phillips’ tenure. “She is a very intelligent, solid player, and a great shooter,” he added.
Another returning player is junior guard Haili Shumate, a “tough, hard-nosed defender who gained some valuable experience last season.”
North’s final returning player is sophomore forward Kate Brown, who moved up for the final nine varsity games last year and averaged 5.5 points and 4 rebounds. “She’s a six-footer with great skills,” said Phillips. “She can run and jump, and handles the ball well. She has a very high ceiling, and I’m really excited to have her.”
The Viking newcomers are sophomore twins Brooke and Beth Settle and a pair of freshmen: Olivia Rhodes and Kyleigh Miller.
Brooke Settle, a wing player, is very fast and athletic, according to Phillips, and can be a great defender. “She is a great young lady and a joy to coach.”
Beth Settle is also fast and athletic and a tough defender. “She’s a solid shooter and another great young lady—a joy to coach.”
A great all-around guard and solid ball handler and shooter, Rhodes “has a bright future and should be a solid contributor this season,” said Phillips.
Miller, a wing/forward, is new to the school district and has been a very pleasant surprise, according to Phillips. “She works hard, is a great defender and very solid offensive player. Kyleigh can defend multiple spots. She has a very bright future, and we are very excited to have her.”
Phillips said the preseason has given him no idea of what to expect from his team. “The entire month of December has passed and we have yet to have our full team at a practice, due to different reasons. So, I expect rusty play, especially early.”
Despite the absences, Phillips said, “I also expect our girls to play with great effort, enthusiasm and great attitudes. Hopefully, we can come together in a hurry, and I am really excited to get going.”
Tim Tribble returns as junior varsity coach and varsity assistant. “We have worked together for years, and he is a great asset,” Phillips said. “He’s a great communicator, very disciplined, and a very positive influence to our program. We work really well together.”
Samantha Smith is back as varsity assistant coach. “She is a staff member at North, which is a huge help for me. She is also the varsity volleyball coach and has a good relationship with several of our players. She is a former standout player and a great help.”
The West girls fell in the second round of the 2A state playoffs, ending the season with a 19-7 record, the second straight campaign with 19 victories. In the regular season West was fourth in the MVAC with a 10-4 record.
Junior center Carson Ledford and senior guard Jamilyn Wilcox are the cornerstones of nine returning players. Ledford, an all-league pick, led the county with a 13.7 scoring average and a team-best 6 rebounds a contest. Wilcox averaged 11.4 points — en route to surpassing 1,000 career points — and 4.3 steals en route to a third straight all-league nod.
Ledford is an offensive and defensive threat, according to Coach Allie Greene, who begins her 11th season at the helm of the program. “Offensively, she can work her post moves or step out and shoot the three, making her extremely hard to guard. Defensively she gets a ton of steals and deflections for her position.”
Greene said that Wilcox, an all-district pick as a sophomore, is another threat on both ends of the court. “She has the ability to take the game in her hands when needed.”
Another pair of seniors, post player Cheyenne Clonch and point guard Jamesyn Bell, are also decorated returners. Bell averaged a team-best 3.5 assists in earning a second straight all-MVAC nod. Clonch averaged 5.2 points and 4.6 rebounds to make honorable mention.
Bell has “tremendous court vision and recognizes things on the court quickly,” said Greene. “She is also a defensive threat and the other half of the defensive trap duo with Jamilyn that opponents don’t want to see coming.”
Clonch brings height to the team and is one half of the “twin towers” with Ledford. “She is a smart player on the court and knows how to put herself in the right spot at the right time,” noted Greene.
The team’s last returning senior is Gracie Lambert, a two-year varsity veteran who is “one of the smartest players and often gets put in every position to fill needs in our rotation. making her the ultimate ‘sixth man,’ ” Greene said.
Other returning juniors are Katie Nichols, Kacey Triplett and Kendall Stanley, a two-year starter and another all-league honorable mention.
Stanley is a guard but often gets plays other positions because of her skills and knowledge, said Greene. “She accepts challenges of guarding tough offensive players, and offensively she shoots the ball well and runs the court well.”
Nichols and Triplett both bring “major intensity” to the team, said Greene. “Due to an injury, Katie didn’t get to play as much as expected last season but her rebounding and defensive skills will be much needed this year.
“Kacey saw the court quite a bit last season and will be another defensive threat with her speed and strength. She also has the ability to step out and shoot the ball.”
The team’s lone returning sophomore is Parker Childress, who has “worked extremely hard in the off season to become a defensive threat,” said Greene. “Parker has gotten stronger since last season, making her more of an offensive threat handling the ball.”
Due to possible COVID-19 quarantining, Greene said that certain junior varsity players may join the varsity at times. “We are looking at sophomore Tori Teague and freshman Kylee Martin to step in for us some. They both have contributed well to our competition level in practices and both have nice outside shots.”
Greene said that other JV members who may see varsity action are sophomores Morgan Wood, Molly Robinson, Faith Brown and freshman Madison Greene.
“This is a special team because we have nine (returning) girls that bring something special to the team,” said Greene. “They have their own unique skills and strengths that make us better.”
Greene expects the MVAC to again be highly competitive. “I never overlook a team or consider a win in the bag with any of the teams in our conference. With the only guaranteed playoff spot being one 1A and one 2A, I expect every game to be a battle. Every game we will be playing for that one spot.”
Tonya Underwood assists Greene for the fifth year and Derek Carter rejoins her staff for the fourth season. The West girls JV coach is Brandon Bell, back for a sixth campaign.
The Central girls saw their 2020 season end in the second round of the 2A state playoffs. The Eagles finished 19-7 and claimed a share of the MVAC regular season title after winning it outright the prior year.
Coach Greg Davenport must replace leading scorer Erica Wyatt and inside force Madison German, both all-leaguers.
“Our expectations are the same every year: win a conference championship, make the state playoffs and win another state championship for Wilkes Central,” said Davenport.
Key among seven returners are junior all-league point guard Zoe Susi (9.5 points, 3 steals a game) and two junior honorable mentions, wing/point Makenna Freeman and small forward Sarah Lowe, who averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds.
Susi, said Davenport, “will be our leader on the floor. She is the engine that makes us go and will also be one we will look to for scoring.”
Freeman is the team’s best on-ball defender who will guard other teams’ best players. Lowe is another defensive stopper, said Davenport, and can play several positions, “which will add to our depth. We will also look to her for scoring.”
The squad’s top returning senior is swing wing Karlie Anderson, a four-year varsity player. “She will provide leadership on the court and will be one of our top rebounders both on the offensive and defensive boards.”
Catherine Chaquea is a “good shooter who will provide senior leadership and depth at the guard position.”
Jacklyn Richardson is a senior who “will provide leadership. She is a good rebounder who will give us depth at the forward and center positions.”
The other returning junior is forward/center Zoe Mathis. “She will be asked to be a force on the boards by being one of our leading rebounders on both ends of the floor. Zoe can play several positions, which will add to our depth.”
Newcomers on the Eagle roster are juniors Ryleigh Parker, Kelsey Bare and Journey McCrimmon and sophomore Jayla Smoker.
Parker is a guard/forward who will be asked to play several positions. “She is quick and defends well and will add a spark coming off the bench,” said Davenport.
Bare missed last year to an ACL injury but has worked hard to recover. “She is a good shooter, and we expect her to provide minutes coming off the bench at the guard position.”
Guard McCrimmon is also recovering from ACL surgery and should be back by mid-season, according to Davenport.
Smoker, a power forward, was the leading scorer on last year’s junior varsity team. “Jayla defends well and can really score around the basket. She will also add a spark coming off the bench.”
Todd Mathis returns as Davenport’s assistant coach and will also serve as head JV coach. “He has been part of my staff since I took the varsity job three years ago.”
New to Davenport’s staff will be Cassie Burdiss, an assistant on both teams. “We are very excited to have her.”
Davenport predicted that the MVAC should again be competitive, with any team capable of beating another on any given night. “Now, you add COVID-19 to the mix—playing in masks, quarantine, no fans at away games—it should make for a very interesting season.”