Takeaways from the St. Albans High School Shootout

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Not much of anyone put much onus on wins and losses during two days at the St. Albans High School Shootout on Tuesday and Wednesday, but even if game results weren’t paramount, there was still plenty to take away. Here are 10 such things that stood out:

  1. North Marion was the most complete team in the Shootout: The Huskies absolutely bludgeoned what have been and what should be solid Kanawha Valley teams in South Charleston and Winfield and their reign of terror reportedly ate up anyone and everyone that got in their way. North Marion made the Class AA semifinals a year ago before bowing out to eventual-champion Fairmont Senior and their use of mass substitutions, sometimes using up to three different sets of five players, was far too much for anyone to handle at the Shootout. The Polar Bears were also in attendance and also impressive and both teams from the northcentral part of the state should be on the short list of contenders heading into next season.
  2. Look out for Wayne: Speaking of AA contenders, there were plenty of those on display on Tuesday and Wednesday as well. One team I really wanted to get a look at and had heard a lot about prior was Wayne. Aeriel Adkins, last year’s leading scorer in the Cardinal Conference, is just one of an entire roster from last season that is eligible to return and play this year. That will include Lakyn Adkins, who suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through last season. She didn’t play in the game I saw, but the Pioneers are long, athletic and can shoot and handle the ball. They certainly have the look of a possible sectional and regional contender and once a team is in the Civic Center, anything can happen.
  3. Injuries are already a concern: It’s summer time, still months away from the beginning of the girls basketball season, but already injuries are taking their toll. St. Albans for instance had three players miss the week, all of which either will start or play significant roles for the Red Dragons. But St. Albans’ plight is just a microcosm of much bigger issues in talking to other coaches. Winfield’s Lauren Hudson missed the tournament with a hip flexor injury, Poca’s Taylor Bonnett is still recovering from a knee injury last year and her status for the season is still questionable, GW’s Tory Self and Riverside’s Carly Price were both missing with sprained ankles, etc. Last season, we saw an abundance of season-ending injuries and in high school basketball, especially in the lower classifications, those sorts of things can decide championships.
  4. McDaniels may be as important as any player in the Kanawha Valley: Speaking of McDaniels, there may not be more on any one player from a possible contender than her. With first-team all-stater Haleigh Legg and fellow senior Alli Johnson both gone, the Red Dragons will be undisputedly McDaniels’ team. It has never been a question of talent with McDaniels, she’s as explosive a combination of athleticism, strength and skill as you’ll find in the state at the point guard position, instead it has been more of a mentality. There are times in games that McDaniels looks absolutely unstoppable when driving to the range, using the aforementioned physical attributes to her advantage. Yet at others, she gets into early foul trouble or looks even a bit passive. If SA is to build on its first state-tournament appearance since 1995 a year ago, McDaniels can ill afford to have such stretches. It’s coach speak to say, “We go as player X goes”, but in this case the Red Dragons may be as good as McDaniels is this season.
  5. Poca is going to be dangerous and vulnerable: Poca broke a state-tournament drought of its own last year, ending a streak that dated back to 1999. The Dots also lost a first-team all stater in Casey Skeens and also will have to move on without Sarah Fisher, who was one of the true unsung heroes in the Kanawha Valley, playing undersized on the inside and gobbling up rebounds against taller and bigger players to open up Poca’s guards to score. Making up for the loss of both is going to be a huge task, especially for Poca’s three returning starters — Molly Collins, Madi Ord and Aubrey Chandler. The Dots were 3-point dependent a year ago but Skeens did possess some ability to get to the rim, especially when the floor was spread. Poca will have to find someway to do that again but proved on Wednesday in a win over Braxton County that its trio of returners can still light it up from downtown as 13 of the team’s 17 field goals were from beyond the arc. That’s all well and good when you’re hitting, but on nights when the 3-ball may not be going down, Poca will have to have an alternate plan. When the Dots shoot it like they did on Wednesday, they could be one, dangerous opponent but when the shooting touch goes cold, it could be a major struggle for Poca to score.
  6. GW’s potential is evident and maybe endless: After returning first-team all-state selection Shi Banks hurt her foot in the first game a year ago and went on to miss the rest of the year, George Washington was a bit forgotten about on the statewide level. But they may be poised to remind some folks once the season starts, sporting a returned, intact starting five plus added depth from a couple of solid freshmen. GW scored one of the loudest wins at the Shootout in a win over Fairmont Senior and that was without Self and guard Sydney Mallory. But Katy Darnell, Lauren Harmison and Dee McMillan were there and with rookies Kalissa Lacy and Vivien Ho adding an impressive amount of production against big-time opponents, GW looked like a legitimate state-tournament contender.
  7. Darnell may be the best multi-sport athlete in the Kanawha Valley: Elite players at the high school level often just look different when they’re playing, it’s smoother and effortless. That’s what Darnell looks like whether she’s between the pipes in soccer, making diving catches in the gap in softball or hitting up-and-under, scoop, reverse layups in basketball. She was flying around again on Wednesday, blocking shots, hitting hanging mid-range jumpers in the lane and playing much bigger than her 5-foot-5 frame. She’s also the perfect complementary piece to McMillan, who serves as the steady hand of the team, grabbing rebounds, scoring points and taking care of the ball. GW coach Jamie LaMaster alluded to his team being “exciting to watch” at times and a large part of that is Darnell who may not stand out in pregame warmups, but once the whistle blows, tends to stick out pretty quickly. If an award was given to the best female multi-sport athlete in the Valley a year ago, it would have been hard to argue with Winfield graduated senior Mary Lawman, who finished her career with four soccer championships, three track-and-field titles and a basketball semifinal appearance. Darnell may be lacking the hardware so far, but she would be likely be the frontrunner for the hypothetical award heading into next year.
  8. Don’t count out Summers just yet: It’s hard to imagine any school in any class lost more in two players than Summers County did in twins Whittney and Brittney Justice, both first-team all-state selections last year. The two traded the school’s all-time scoring record all year and were the unquestioned catalysts in one of the state’s most explosive offenses that cleared the 100-point barrier twice. But this season, the Bobcats and coach Sarah Blevins have adopted a more defensive approach that the team put on display in St. Albans. In beating Roane County, Summers limited possessions and got balanced scoring with six players scoring in the first half. The Bobcats are hardly void of talent with returners Hannah Taylor and Tiffani Cline both providing significant contributions a year ago as juniors and while a return run to the state tournament would be quite an accomplishment, it certainly isn’t impossible. Expect the Bobcats to exceed expectations next season.
  9. Huntington and South Charleston have talent, but work to do: Huntington and South Charleston have provided countless memorable games in big situations over the past four seasons, culminating in an instant classic win for the Highlanders a year ago in a Class AAA semifinal that may likely have been the best game in the state tournament in any class. But each team lost four senior starters (Huntington ‘s Mariah Harmon, Jordyn Dawson, Kearsta Turner and Lexi Sheffield; South Charleston’s Aaliyah Dunham, Rhea Smith, Haley Baker and Jayla Brown) and the slate has been wiped clean in some regards. SC’s Lavender Ward and Lashae Watts should provide some solidarity to the Black Eagles and expect Ward to take a big step forward this season as a junior in terms of her statistical production. The talent has been there and in stretches of some games, she was arguably SC’s best player a year ago. But now, there are no seniors to yield to. As for Huntington, Madison Slash and Alezha Turner are back after getting experience as freshmen a year ago, but the bulk of their roster is also made up of sophomores and freshmen. It’d be hard to imagine a Class AAA field without either the Black Eagles or Highlanders as both played in the state tournament in each season the aforementioned graduated seniors played in, but how fast Huntington’s Lonnie Lucas and SC’s Gary Greene can grow and season their youngsters will have everything to do with where the teams end up next season.
  10. Expect Winfield to improve more during the course of the season than any other team: The Generals showed on Wednesday where they could be and just how far they’ll have to go to get there. Winfield beat Wheeling Park and St. Albans and then was one of North Marion’s victims in its third game. Winfield expects a few more than just the seven players it had on Wednesday with Lauren Hudson being a given, but how fast can new coach Pat McGinnis get his team to flip the switch after what is usually a lengthy girls soccer season (the Generals have won five straight state titles)? As good as Winfield was a year ago in reaching the state semifinals, the team’s main weakness was shot making around the rim, at the free-throw line and beyond the arc. But the team was better at the end of the year than at the beginning, a clear sign of players who by and large identify as soccer players improving greatly with more and more minutes logged on the court. The Generals remain a bit of an enigma. A talented and experienced team with a different coach and with one major loss in Lawman. Kanawha Valley freshman of the year Z.Z. Russell is back for an encore and everyone else on the team will be kicking balls instead of shooting them in the fall. Could Winfield take another step forward and go to a state championship game? Absolutely. Could the Generals fall in the sectional round to Wayne or Sissonville or Poca? Yep. Either scenario is possible. But the good thing for Winfield is that the postseason is just that, post season. That gives the Generals a whole regular-season slate to get into gear. My take: if Winfield doesn’t quite have the same regular-season record it did a year ago, don’t panic. The Generals will face a tough schedule with a target on their backs and will have to adapt to life without Lawman, who’s unique athleticism, leadership and place atop Winfield’s press will make her as tough a hole to replace as any. But the Generals proved last season they can progress rapidly and with Russell a year better, stronger and more experienced, the Gens should still be a threat at the end, when it matters most.

 

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