The 2018-19 girls basketball season was certainly a memorable one for Wilkes County teams.
West Wilkes won the program’s first-ever conference championship when it shared the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference regular season title with Wilkes Central, which won its first regular-season title in four years.
It was also the first season since 2013-14 that all four girls basketball programs made the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs.
But when it came to voting for this year’s Wilkes Journal-Patriot all-county Player of the Year, one player certainly stood out to county coaches.
That player was Malaya Cowles.
The Wilkes Central sophomore followed up a well-accomplished freshman season with an even better second year. She led the county in scoring (19.5 points per game), rebounding (18.5 boards per game) and blocks (four per game) on the way to being named the MVAC’s Player of the Year.
But the accolades don’t stop there — she was also named the MVAC tournament MVP and earned a first-team All-District 11 selection by the North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association.
“Her game has improved a ton in the offseason. She had a great camp last summer; she worked hard in the offseason and her game has improved a lot,” said Wilkes Central Head Coach Greg Davenport after a game during the regular season.
All-County First Team
Like a regular basketball game, the all-county first team consists of 10 players (not including Cowles), who were nominated by their respective head coaches, for a traditional five-on-five look.
Counting Cowles, Wilkes Central led the first team selection with four players. West Wilkes and North Wilkes had three selections each while East Wilkes had one selection.
All told, 18 players from the four high schools were nominated and 17 of them were named either all-conference or honorable mention.
East Wilkes (6-18, 2-12 MVAC)
A year after reaching the fourth round of the NCHSAA 1A playoffs, the Cardinals had a rare down year this past winter but still made the state playoffs.
Lakyn Mathis, a player who East Wilkes Head Coach Matt Campbell said, “played hard every night,” overcame injuries that sidelined her for the first third of season to average a team-best 11.8 points a game.
The senior all-MVAC selection also averaged 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game. She shot 32 percent from the three-point line. She’s also the only senior on this year’s all-county team.
North Wilkes (14-13, 10-4)
After winning the 2A Western Regional title in 2018, the Vikings took the court with a relatively new lineup from the previous season.
That group went on to post a winning record and did not graduate anyone from this year’s team.
After being sidelined all of the 2017-18 season with a knee injury, Liz Martin returned to the court and averaged eight points and five rebounds a game for the Vikings. The all-conference selection also led the team in steals with three a game.
“Liz was a team leader and our best defender,” said North Wilkes Head Coach Steven Phillips. “She guarded five different spots; just a great teammate with great energy and a joy to coach.”
Rachel Winkler took over inside the post this winter and led the team in rebounding at six boards a game.
The junior also averaged eight points a game while earning all-conference recognition.
“Rachel was our most consistent player all year. She guarded much bigger players throughout the year and was really tough,” said Phillips.
Shelby Roal, the only returning Viking who scored in the 2A state championship game the previous season, took on a bigger role in North’s offense this winter.
The sophomore responded by leading the Vikings in scoring at 11.2 points per game. Roal, who Phillips said was “an athletic forward who had some big games,” added 3.5 rebounds a game and was an all-conference selection.
West Wilkes (19-8, 11-3)
The Blackhawks returned to the postseason for the first time in five years and did so on the shoulders of some talented underclassmen.
Jamilyn Wilcox played a major role in West Wilkes’ success and was well rewarded in the postseason as she was an all-conference selection and named to the NCBCA all-district third team for District 11.
The sophomore averaged a team-high 15 points a game and led the Blackhawks in steals (3.75 per game) as well. She also shot 62 percent from the free-throw line.
Scoring-wise, she scored double figures in 22 of the 27 games. In eight of those games, she scored 20 points or more.
“Jamilyn was a defensive and offensive threat. She creates chaos on defense with her speed and quick hands,” said West Wilkes Head Coach Allie Greene. “She often created turnovers down the court with her ball pressure. Offensively, she can attack the basket off the dribble and can shoot from the outside as well.”
Newcomer Carson Ledford was a much-needed post presence for the Blackhawks as she averaged 12 points a game and led the team in rebounding with 7.5 boards.
The all-MVAC performer shot a team-best 69 percent from the charity stripe. She scored in double figures 16 times with four games of 20 points or more.
“Carson had great post moves but could step out and shoot the three. She has been a huge presence on the boards as well,” said Greene. “She also had great ball-handling skills and can take the ball to the hole.”
Kelsie Huffman, who Greene called “a well-rounded basketball player,” averaged 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds a game.
The sophomore, who was named an all-conference performer, added 1.8 steals a game.
“She plays several positions on the court and plays them well. She was an offensive triple threat with her ability to drive, shoot and pass,” said Greene. “Defensively, she reads the ball well on and off the ball and is not afraid to take a charge.”
Wilkes Central (22-7, 11-3)
Madison German complemented Cowles in the post as she also averaged a double-double with 11.5 points and 10 rebounds a game.
In addition to averaging 1.5 blocks and 1.5 assistants, the junior was also an all-MVAC performer.
Erica Wyatt and Zoe Susi took care of things on the perimeter for the Eagles.
Wyatt, a junior all-conference selection, hit 40 3-pointers while averaging 10.5 points a game. She also added four rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals a game.
Susi, a freshman all-MVAC honorable mention pick, averaged 10 points and four assists a game. She also added four rebounds and two steals per game despite missing time throughout the season due to injuries.
All-County second team
Seven players were selected to the all-county second team, led by three picks apiece from North Wilkes and West Wilkes while East Wilkes added one selection.
Lauren Rakes took on a much larger role this winter and responded by leading the team in rebounds (9.6 boards a game) and steals (4.2 per game).
Rakes, an honorable mention selection, averaged 11.2 points a game.
McKenzie Johnson and Anna Phillips complemented Martin on the perimeter for the Vikings and both turned in solid seasons. Both players were named all-MVAC honorable mention.
Johnson averaged 6.5 points and four rebounds a game; she also added 1.5 steals a game. Phillips averaged a team-best three assists a game and added three rebounds and 1.5 steals a game.
Forward Madison Byrd averaged 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds a game.
Jamesyn Bell, an all-MVAC first team selection, averaged 2.9 steals a game to go along with 1.5 assists.
Kendall Stanley and Gracie Lambert each saw time in the Blackhawks’ starting five during the season and both earned all-MVAC honorable mention selections.
Stanley averaged 3.9 points and 1.75 steals a game while Lambert averaged 2.7 points and 1.6 steals a game. Both players were 50 percent from the free-throw line.