Prep Basketball Preview: West Rowan girls
By David Shaw
MOUNT ULLA ó Its season won’t open for another week, but already the West Rowan girls basketball team is behind the ’08 ball.
The Falcons will launch the year without two-time all-county guard Peyton Sawyer ó who won’t be eligible until mid-January.
“That’s like taking K.J. (Sherrill) off the boys team,” second-year coach Erich Epps explained. “Or taking Taylor May away from South. Really, it’s like cutting the head off a snake.”
Without the penetrating Sawyer and her 8.8 points per game, Epps is forced to adjust his compass, make a course change and set sail.
He’s hoping the prevailing winds will steer the Falcons to another 3A state playoff berth.
“In all my years of coaching, this is definitely my biggest challenge,” said Epps, who guided West to 16 wins last season before it fell to eventual state champion Concord in the first round. “But it is a fun team. They’re very, very coachable. It’s just going to take a while.”
With three sophomores and two freshmen expected to see considerable playing time, Epps may feel like he’s running a day care.
Then again, with sharpshooter Ayana Avery and senior Mila Simmons manning the backcourt, West may be the left hook a dazed fighter never sees coming.
“We’re building, but we think we can surprise people,” Epps said.
Don’t bet against him.
Epps believes Avery is an upper-echelon player who will emerge as the team’s weapon of choice.
“She has to,” he said. “She’s the one who will carry us offensively night-in and night-out. Last year she was mostly a perimeter shooter who took a lot of 3s. This year she’ll have to take the dribble and drive.”
In Simmons, West has an intense guard with experience.
Count on her to distribute the ball with precision and become more of a scoring threat.
“Last year she was our fourth or fifth option and didn’t score much,” Epps said. “That will change. Look for her to do a lot more this year.”
West’s frontcourt has more question marks than pound signs, but at least Epps has some viable choices.
There’s small forward Kierra Gillespie, a 5-foot-6 senior who will play on the perimeter. Ashley Dutton is a 6-foot junior who started twice last winter and has the skills and confidence to be a force.
“If you come to practice and watch her, she thinks she’s the best player on the team,” Epps said.
Also competing for PT is forward Gabby Calloway, a 5-6 senior who hustles, rebounds and plays defense.
At center, Epps has installed 5-11 senior Megan Moose, a consistent short-range shooter best suited for the halfcourt game.
“Her biggest weakness,” Epps said, “may be transitioning from one end of the floor to the other.”
That’s four seniors and a sophomore in the projected starting lineup ó and not a bad one at that.
The supporting cast includes forward Amber Hollaway, a 5-7 freshman who scored more than 200 points as an eighth-grader. Freshman guard Allison Baucom, who arrives from Sacred Heart, has made an immediate impression.
“She’s definitely ready defensively,” Epps said. “She already has Mila and Peyton’s quickness. She will help us off the bench.”
Up from the junior varsity is 5-6 junior Desere Cross, a top scorer last year and first cousin of former North Rowan standout Stephanie Cross.
Also in the mix are sophomores Leana Watson, a 5-6 guard, and 5-8 forward Allison Parker. Epps even has a wild card in guard Olivia Watkins, a junior who went through the orthopedic alphabet (torn MCL, ACL and PCL) as a jayvee player. She was cleared in mid-October.
“Before the injury she was an exceptionally good player,” Epps said. “And by the end of this year and next season, we expect her to be an important factor.”
West opens its season Dec. 2 with a difficult conference test at Mooresville.
The Falcons aren’t long on varsity experience, but they do have depth at all positions.
“With Peyton, we’re top three in our conference,” said Epps, who’ll be assisted by West alum Hillary Hampton. “Without her, I don’t know. Maybe fifth. We’ve got a long way to go.”