Once a top program, Thomas Dale has slowly been closing the gap back to being a contender under coach Leon Gholson, who enters his fifth season. Their 16-7 mark last year was the best during Gholson’s tenure. The Knights fell to Cosby in the region at semi-finals, 58-47.
Departures: Jessica Henderson, Daizjah Brown, Jaiyden Winfield
Henderson is playing basketball at Lees McRae in North Carolina, and Brown is suiting up at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
Key returning players: Aliyah Kellum, Rana Richie
Backcourt: Rana Richie, Elayna Givens and Ayanni Madison will be the top guard’s in Gholson’s rotation. Richie, the lone returning senior guard will surely be looked to as a leader. A good defender, Richie is also fearless when she drives to the basket. Givens and Madison are freshmen Gholson called ‘tremendous athletes,’ but they’ll have to grow up quickly.
Frontcourt: Aliyah Kellum, Tamyah Webb and Janiyah Jackson will lead this group. Kellum, the team’s other senior is an experienced player who has the potential to average a double-double per game. Webb is the younger sister of Kylah, who starred in both basketball and volleyball at Dale and is now a starter on the hardwood for Bluefield State. Tamyah, a freshman, is ready to carve out her own legacy, and Gholson said that she could be an excellent scorer. Jackson is a six-foot freshman who provides length and defends well inside.
This year’s team, despite having just two seniors, may be better in some ways.
“The girls are talented, but young,” said Gholson. “Improvement will have to be a gradual process throughout the season,” he continued. “The thing that hurt us last season was depth- we went about six girls solid, but we made up for it with the experience of two senior guards.”
Now, Gholson believes he has more contributors, despite the overall lack of experience. This is good news, considering the team will feature five or six freshmen, with three potentially starting.
Thomas Dale could duplicate last season’s success, but the youth on the team needs to get up to speed quickly. While there will certainly be some bumps along the way, the Knights have their sights set on pushing past the region and semifinal during the 2019-20 season.