2009-2010 Basketball: West Rowan girls preview
By Ronnie Gallagher
firstname.lastname@example.orgMOUNT ULLA ó Erich Epps suffered through the first losing season of his 25-year coaching career last year as West Rowan’s girls finished 11-14.
He thought the Falcons could’ve easily won 17 games or more, but they had trouble doing the little things ó like hitting layups and free throws. Because of the fundamental flaws, West lost seven games by five points or less.
Epps points to two games in particular.
In a three-point loss to West Iredell, West missed 27 free throws. In another game, he was informed that his team had missed 21 layups ó in the first half.
“On the offensive end, we were one-and-done 95 percent of the time,” Epps said. “And we couldn’t rebound on the other end. The other teams got two or three shots, and that shouldn’t happen.”
It drove Epps crazy. Of his 13 players, 11 started as he tried to find combinations that worked.
West should turn things around this season because outside threat and leading scorer Ayana Avery (20.2 points) has some help in the paint. Five Falcons stand at least 5-foot-10.
But it all still revolves around Avery, the all-conference and all-county junior guard.
“She’ll have to do more,” Epps said, noting the graduation losses of Peyton Sawyer and Mila Simmons. “But I really don’t want her bringing the ball up and keeping her from scoring. So we’ll handle by committee.”
Avery should go over 1,000 points for her career this season.
“She’s got the green light, for sure,” Epps said.
Senior Desere Cross averaged six points per game as one of the more effective Falcons.
“She’ll give us some scoring,” Epps said. “She can make moves to the basket.”
Junior Allison Parker will see plenty of time. The 5-foot-8 junior is a good athlete and can be a defensive stopper.
“She’s a real strong girl,” Epps said. “She just needs to get her confidence up.”
Epps is counting on two freshmen, Shay Steele and Tabitha Ball, to step up.
Steele stands 6-1 and impressed coaches so much during the summer that she’s already getting letters from Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and South Carolina.
“She’s only played organized basketball for two years,” Epps said. “But she’s the fastest girl on the team from baseline to baseline.
“Her upside is tremendous. Defensively, she’ll be a star. She could average three, four blocks a game. I’m really, really excited about her. If she continues to work, she could be one of the best to come out of West.”
Conditioning is Ball’s biggest concern now that she’s on the longer high school floor.
“But she’s the only girl that can catch the ball in the post with her back to the basket and make a move,” Epps said. “I’m looking for six points and six rebounds a game. If she does that, or better, we’ll be in good shape.”
The big girls keep coming in the form of sisters Ashley and Alison Dutton.
Senior Ashley is 6-1 and is expected to score six to eight points per game.
“She needs to make the transition from practice to the game,” Epps said.
Sophomore Alison is 6-2.
“She has improved more than any of our kids,” Epps said. “She can step out and hit the 3. Changing ends is the biggest thing for her.”
Epps also welcomes Statesville transfer Kelli Bolick. The sophomore was the starting center for the Greyhound jayvees, standing in at 5-10.
A big surprise is Amber Holloway, who came from West Middle as a 200-point scorer in the eighth grade and learned on the job last year.
“Defensively, she’s very, very good,” Epps said of his sophomore guard. “She anticipates well and gets her hands on balls.
“We have a 5-10 center and two 6-1 wings,” Epps said. “Ayana can jump. Amber is 5-9. It will be hard to score against us due to length.”
Also at guard is 5-2 sophomore Allison Baucom, who played varsity as a freshman.
“She and Parker are our best defensive players,” Epps said. “She provides quickness. I can steal minutes with her.”
The jayvees’ leading scorer, Brittney Barber, arrives.
“She can play, but her game is ugly,” smiled Epps. “She can shoot well enough and dribble well enough. Her game’s just not polished yet.”
Olivia Watkins tore her knee up as a freshman and didn’t think she’d play again. But now as senior, she’s ready to improve on her 1.1 scoring average.
“She’s got her quickness back,” Epps said. “She has a good outside shot.”
Alicia Turner, Kim Jenkins and Moriah Leach are seniors.
Together, they should make fans forget about last season, when the Falcons didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
“My expectations were high,” Epps said. “We missed tons of easy shots. We missed putback after putback.”
And don’t forget the missed free throws.
“As a coach, if you’re getting free throws and layups, you have to feel pretty good,” Epps said. “But we never got that eight-girl rotation. Now, I have four that kinda jump out at you with eight clustered in those other four spots. That’s a good problem to have.”
Epps said North Iredell is the favorite “hands down” in the North Piedmont Conference, with Statesville next.
“After that, it’s a dogfight,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting.”
Especially when those teams visit Mount Ulla and run into Epps’ new and improved West Rowan girls basketball team.