Skyhawks’ season starting to peak

With another successful football season behind it, the L.C. Bird High School student body still has a lot to cheer about. Bird’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams are enjoying successful campaigns as teams ease into the stretch before district tournaments kick off.

Coaches Chevette Waller and Chuck Thomas both have much to be proud of, but, if you talk to them, there are still things to figure out as the season progresses.

For the girls, the season started with victories over Clover Hill and Cosby.  But, they dropped their next two decisions to tough opponents in the Central and Dominion districts, Thomas Dale and Huguenot, both of which were ranked highly in area polls. Since then, they have turned it on, winning six of their last seven games, dropping a game between two three-game winning streaks. And there’s still promise of improvement.

“Overall, our team is starting to peak,” said Waller. “In the Dominion District, you have to be ready to play every single night.”

Since being called up from junior varsity, Monica Alexander has adjusted quickly, and so far has been playing well, averaging 12 points and nearly two steals per contest coming off the bench.

Junior point guard and team captain Porscha Walton and other team members have also noticed Alexander’s play.

“I have noticed a lot of improvements on the team,” said Walton. “I see the post players working harder to get the ball, and Monica [Alexander], who we called up, has been playing well.”

In addition to the upbeat start from Alexander on varsity, Bird also has guard Kelsey Cruz at the helm, leading the Skyhawks in scoring and averaging 18.5 points per game. Displaying an array of moves and shot types, Cruz put up 26 points in Friday night’s 70-60 win against Midlothian.

“Kelsey is very offensive-minded,” said Waller. “When things go well for Kelsey on offense, things typically go well for us.”

The Lady Skyhawks have posted a record thus far of 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the Dominion District, good enough for third place, just one in the loss column behind Cosby and Huguenot. They will face both teams again, Cosby on the road, and Huguenot at Bird. They will also face a formidable task when they travel to Meadowbrook on Jan. 31 to take on the Lady Monarchs, who currently lead the Central District. Under the guidance of first-year coach Danny Connor, Meadowbrook is the only team to defeat both Thomas Dale and Huguenot this year, with both defeats coming in the Times-Dispatch Invitational Tournament last month.

“Once we finish coming together,” said Waller, “I feel like we’re going to peak at the right time.” The girls will be in action Thursday against Cosby on the road, with tip time at 7:30 p.m.

On the boys’ side, there is much to be excited about for coach Thomas and a very young squad this year; his leading scorer, Robert Johnson, is a sophomore, and many more key contributors are underclassmen.

“We’re still a work in progress,” said Thomas “We have a lot of young guys, and a couple players that weren’t with us last year, such as Ant Harris, the glue of our team. … We’re not there just yet.”

Not being there yet might be the biggest blessing of them all for the Skyhawks, as they have been playing above standard this season with a 9-1 overall record and a perfect 6-0 mark in the district. Some tests remain, though, as two games with Cosby remain on the schedule, as well as a rematch with Monacan, who Bird dispatched in their first meeting by nine points.

As for the leading scorer, Robert Johnson, some might know the name Johnson from football, and yes, there’s a relation. Robert is Yahkee Johnson’s younger brother. The sophomore has had his own coming out party this year, leading the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game. He is a big part of a balanced Skyhawks attack.

“Robert is a great player and he’s going to be a really great player,” said Thomas. “Last year as a freshman, he was a one-dimensional player, a shooter. … But he worked really hard in the off-season and developed other parts of his game.”

Johnson looked smooth on the floor as Bird dispatched Midlothian 76-51 Friday night, completing the home sweep of the Trojans. The sophomore added 18 points and four assists to the effort, including a three-pointer over a defender at the third quarter buzzer.

Bird is also getting key contributions from Ant Harris, a senior who committed to UVA as a cornerback for football. He missed all of last basketball season with a broken leg, and has rebounded nicely from the injury, averaging eight points and leading the team with 8.3 rebounds per contest.

“He does it all,” said Thomas. “He does all the little things.”

Bird will look to push the envelope this year, despite being a young squad, and look to run deep into the postseason using balance and unselfishness.

“I’m just really proud of this group, we share the basketball, we’re a team, we’re unselfish,” said Thomas. “The games that we play really well, it’s because we share the basketball. And we’re harder to defend when we’re getting several guys in double-digit scoring.”

Bird, too, will face Cosby, on the road this Friday, with tip-time also at 7:30 p.m. Cosby is led by seven-footer Matt Gorski and a host of other talented players.

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