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2011-12 Basketball: Salisbury girls preview

By Ronnie Gallagher
rgallagher@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó The Salisbury girls baskeball team is known for being a juggernaut. Three straight state championships have the Hornets rated high in the state, regardless of classification.
Last seasonís 76-44 victory over East Bladen was the easiest of the three titles, thanks to four Division I recruits: Olivia Rankin, Ashia and Ayanna Holmes and Jessica Heilig.
Those four are at the next level.
So, what now?
Second-year coach Chris McNeil insists its time to rebuild. Most everyone else says reload.
ěWeíll have a puzzle,î he said. ěWe have the pieces. Theyíre all just young.î
The fact is, the pipeline from Knox Middle School to Salisbury is still flowing the talent in. From Shayla Fields to Bubbles Phifer to Brielle Blaire, no one has been able to stop the Hornets over the last eight years. The Hornets are an eye-popping 224-16 during that span.
Although Blaire is only a sophomore, she is carrying the reputation of ěbest Salisbury player.î
Last season, Blaire easily mixed in with the seniors and was able to showcase the same skills that had colleges drooling when she was just an eighth grader.
She is the only returning starter.
ěWeíre working on moving her around,î McNeil said. ěShe can play different positions and we may use her more on the wing.î
How good was Salisbury last season? Blaire scored 20 points in the drubbing of East Bladen.
ěThey have four Division I players and a freshman wins MVP,î signed East Bladen coach Patty Evers afterward.
McNeil expects more than just scoring this year from Blaire, who averaged 11.8 points last year. He wants her to be the CEO.
ěSheís a vocal leader on the court,î he said. ěShe has worked on her footwork and ballhandling. It shows. Sheís the complete package.î
Doreen Richardson is probably the fastest player from end to end in Rowan County. Sheíll play the point and 2-guard.
Richardson was having a nice season, averaging 7.4 points when she went down with a broken foot in the 18th game. Her high was 17 against Lexington.
Sheís 100 percent now.
ěSheís faster than before,î McNeil smiled. ěShe has embraced the role of senior leadership. Her scoring should increase.î
A talented group of jayvee players must make an impact. Vashti Usry and Daterria Connor lead the way.
The 5-6 Usry was the leader of a two-time undefeated jayvee team.
ěSheíll start,î McNeil said of his junior. ěIt will be a good transition for her. She has excellent basketball skills and is a natural leader.î
The 5-8 Connor is expected to help underneath.
ěSheís an excellent rebounder who hustles on both ends,î McNeil said.
McNeil has a lefty in 5-6 junior Monifa Angle, a shooting guard.
ěShe can score,î he said. ěSheíll fly under the radar for a while until people realize she can shoot.î
Danielle Harmon, is a 5-8 junior who will help with rebounding.
ěShe plays with an edge, with a chip on her shoulder,î McNeil said of the junior.
Nyasia Harris is a 6-footer who can anchor the low block.
McNeil is impressed with 5-6 junior Patreece Lattimore.
ěShe will be another workhorse,î McNeil said. ěSheís a coachís dream. Sheíll do everything you ask. In some situations, sheíll fill in holes 1 through 5. Sheís got one speed and thatís fast.î
McNeil is ecstatic over his two freshmen: 5-8 Bryanne Caldwell and and 5-5 Ashley Blaire, Brielleís sister.
ěCaldwellís long and she has a great understanding of the game,î McNeil said. ěShe works hard on the defensive end. Sheíll get major minutes.î
Of the younger Blaire, McNeil added, ěAshley can play 1 through 3. She has a lot of confidence for her to be a 14-year-old freshman. Those will be the future of Salisbury basketball.î
The present looks pretty good, too.
ěThese young ladies are taking a businesslike approach,î McNeil said. ěTheyíre not talking about what everyone expects. This is a group with a different mission.î
McNeil couldíve padded his schedule with easy nonconference foes but that isnít his style. Last year, he lost to 4A power Butler, then reeled off 27 straight wins. This year, Salisbury starts with 4A Hopewell. 3A power Concord is also on the slate.
ěItís a pretty competitive schedule,î he said. ěThe ladies are excited. The biggest adjustment will be the pace of the game.î
McNeilís right. The pace of the game will be the biggest adjustment ó for every team that plays Salisbury.

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