Thomas Dale will be tested early
Thomas Dale finished last year 10-13 and sent two players to the college ranks. Kylah Webb and Jemiah Brittnum are at Bluefield State College in West Virignia, and Webb (6-1, center) is already starting.
The Knights are led by head coach Leon Gholson, who has steadily pushed to get the program back to where it was when players like Ka’lia Johnson and Alyssa Frye roamed the hardwood.
Jessica Henderson returns, fresh off a campaign that saw her rake in all-region honors. She led the team in scoring and assists.
Another guard to watch is Daizjah Brown, a shooter who defends well. Rana Richie is back with her trademark defense and hustle. Newcomer Jaidyn Winfield could develop into a top-tier scorer as the season progresses.
This year, the frontcourt will feature Aliyah Kellum and Khadijah Waller, the latter who has bounced back nicely from an ankle sprain that cost her 10 games last season. Kellum is a capable rebounder and what Gholson called an “effort player.” Jordan Walker also returns with a strong defensive presence and the ability to block shots.
Gholson said the team will be competitive this year. Exactly how competitive will be determined by the chemistry they develop as they start off the season with a tough stretch. Teams like Matoaca, Prince George, Cosby and Meadowbrook are on the schedule in the early going.
Meadowbrook boasts a big frontcourt
After a down year, Meadowbrook was resurgent last year, finishing at 15-5. While only losing two key players from that roster, the Monarchs have Radford commit Taiye Johnson in the paint, along with Ta’Nya Burnett and Maya Ellis as other intriguing players.
As far as departures go, standout Lauren Ford graduated and is now playing at Division II Catawba College. Chandler Hicks transferred to Richmond Christian.
The frontcourt will be an exciting place for head coach Daniel Connor and fans, but a potentially scary one for opponents.
At 6-4, Johnson is one of the area’s biggest players. Her wingspan alone alters shots and makes it difficult for opponents to drive to the basket.
A 6-2 freshman, Alary Bell has developing skills and has already shown a knack for rebounding and inside scoring.
Madison Howard, a junior, will add defensive prowess and rebounding to the front line as well, Connor said.
Burnett, in the eyes of her coach, is among the quickest guards in the conference. A great defender on the ball, the junior has a “keen sense” on how to get to the basket and knows where and when to distribute the basketball, Conner said.
Other guards include sophomore Ellis, an outside threat who can also put the ball on the floor, and senior Jayhana Jenkins and junior Jaylynn Johnson.
Although losing Ford and Hicks hurt, Meadowbrook has been helped out by a new rule in Chesterfield County that allows eighth-graders to play junior varsity. This change will enable Meadowbrook to field a full junior varsity squad for the first time in three years.
Matoaca has depth to go the distance
After a winning season two years ago at 12-10, the Matoaca High Warriors took a huge step forward last year, finishing 17-5 and advancing to the Class 5 South region tournament. Those 17 wins mark the highest season total in Glenna Lewis’ 11 years at the helm.
Gone are two key players in Brielle Kittrell and Ayana Scarborough. Both were skilled scorers and leaders, an Scarborough averaged about 20 points per game. At first, Lewis’ concern was leadership after losing two important figures, but the way her team played in the season’s first week (3-0) has her encouraged.
The leader this year may be Nadja Gray, who averaged 15 points per game en route to second team all-conference honors. Lewis likes Gray’s versatility and said she can play every position from point guard to power forward. Janai Harris, Aaliyah Jackson and Kendall Satterwhite are back, and all will look to fill the backcourt gap left by Kittrell and Scarborough.
One thing in Matoaca’s favor this year is depth, specifically in the front court. Jordan Carpenter (5-9), Hayley Blair (5-10), Alize Armstead (5-9) and Jada Robinson (5-8) are “the biggest team” Lewis said she has ever coached at Matoaca. Lewis was able to play all 10 players last week, which bodes well for fresh legs all season.
Matoaca started off with wins against Colonial Heights, Huguenot and J.R. Tucker one game that will be circled on the schedule is Varina. The Blue Devils have won three of the last four meetings and knocked Matoaca out of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
Bird looking to overcome injuries
A program that made it to the state tournament six years in a row has a lot of which to be proud. To make it again in the 2018-19 season they will have to overcome the same challenges they typically have plus a couple of unexpected ones.
Two key players, Mya Coleman and Kam Brown, both went down with injuries in the off-season. Coleman, a senior and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, is lost for the season. Brown, a junior, who was the team’s second-leading scorer and a three-point specialist, is aiming to return by February.
“Last year went well, and I was expecting a big year this season,” head coach Chevette Waller said. “We’ll have some challenges to overcome early.”
Despite the grave news heading into the year, Waller enters the year with some talented players and tricks up her sleeve. Returning are two capable seniors in Jaden Watkins and Jayla Henderson. Waller said both players will be expected to step up their offensive production and have the green light to “let it go” on offense. Twins Kiyah and Kielle Shaw are good defenders and bring experience to the table.
An x-factor and something Bird will need to make a deep run in the postseason is a post player. Waller has one this year: Jade Wilson, who transferred from Cosby. At 5-11, Wilson provides a big frame in the paint. She’ll have to balance out her game scoring in the post, gobbling up rebounds and passing the ball efficiently to help the Skyhawks step up their game.
“As a team, collectively, we are in better shape,” Waller said. “We have to have great endurance. We’ll have to deal with less depth by playing smarter and limiting fouls.”
Waller and L.C. Bird will work to see if they can soar to similar heights as the program has reached during her 19-year tenure with the school.