Prep basketball Preview: East Rowan girls
By Bret Strelow
GRANITE QUARRYó East Rowan’s girls enter the season with guarded optimism.
The Mustangs lost three senior starters from a team that tied for second place in the NPC, and a lineup featuring as many as four perimeter players will attempt to keep East in the title hunt.
“We don’t want to back down now,” East coach Karen Garmon said. “We want to continue that winning record and winning season.
“The girls felt like they brought back a winning tradition last year, and we want to keep that and keep pushing forward. That’s all they’ve talked about with some of their team goals.”
East went 19-10 last season and won a playoff game for the first time since 2004, when an NPC title team reached the regionals.
The Mustangs return a pair of capable ball-handlers in Ashley Collins and Katelynne Poole, who both averaged more than 11 points per game as juniors.
Collins reached double figures on 15 occasions last season and scored a career-high 25 points against West Iredell. She has 856 in her career.
Poole, a Brevard signee, had 18 double-figure outings. She has 641 career points.
“They’ve always been awesome offensively, and now they have the smarts of a senior ó the decision making and leadership,” Garmon said. “They know what to do, and I don’t have to say it. It’s like they’re on auto-pilot because they’re so experienced.”
Collins and Poole will be called upon to rebound and provide a physical presence given the increased roles of guards Alaina Vanderford and Mackenzie Holshouser. Collins was East’s leading rebounder last season.
Vanderford, a dangerous 3-point shooter, scored 62 points in 25 games last season. Holshouser made 19 appearances.
“Last year, you didn’t get to see as much out of Alaina and Mackenzie, but they’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Garmon said. “Those four guards running together, they’re going to be phenomenal. They’re going to do a lot of great things together.
“We can put Ashley in the post some. We’re really trying to get those four strong guards on the floor together running with Olivia Rankin and Olivia Sabo.”
Rankin and Sabo give East legitimate height in the post.
Rankin, who had the third-highest scoring average among the Mustangs’ returning players, posted 12 points in three of East’s first five games last year. She also had 12 in a season-ending playoff loss to Concord.
Rankin and Sabo have shown the ability to keep up with the guards as East transitions to a smaller lineup.
“The pace of play is to get up and down the floor right now,” Garmon said. “Both of them came into the season in shape ó they didn’t wait to start getting in shape once we started. We’re getting up and down the floor, and the tempo will be a lot faster.”
Madelyn File is a bit undersized, but she will contribute in the post.
Garmon can also turn to Mallory Drew, Tempest Means, Devan Corpening and Taylor Honeycutt for minutes off the bench.
“Those younger kids are improving each day and hope to get into the mix,” Garmon said. “With our squad, the thing they put a lot of emphasis on to me is us sticking together, staying strong, continuing to push each other every day.
“These kids push each other in practice, and they’re demanding. My senior leadership sets the tone this year, and for us to keep winning the key is to maintain that intensity throughout the season.”
The Mustangs started 15-4 a year ago but dropped four of their last five games in the regular season. They tied Lake Norman, which lost both meetings with East, for second place.
The Mustangs’ toughness will be tested against talented teams in the deep NPC.
“If you box out and hustle, you can rebound,” Garmon said. “Collins was our leading rebounder last year as a guard, and Poole can rebound. We always released her in the past, and people haven’t seen how physical she can be.
“(A small lineup) could hurt us, but until it does, we’re probably going to run that guard offense. If we need to put two big girls in, I’ve got two big girls to put in.”