Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CHINA GROVE — Carson coach Brooke Misenheimer lost three starters, including the two top scorers in school history, but she doesn’t look all that worried.
After all, what’s there to worry about? In her first three seasons, Carson lost 67 of its 71 games. Youngsters who can’t remember when Carson’s girls weren’t good might be unaware that the program’s roots were dug in discouraging 1-22, 1-23 and 2-22 seasons. Those were the rough seasons that laid the foundation for 11-16, 18-7, 23-4 (NPC co-champs) and last season’s 21-8.
Misenheimer weathered those first three years of constant losing without losing her sanity and without blaming her players, so you know she’ll handle the challenges this season brings just fine.
And while Carson won’t be 23-4, it’s not like the Cougars are tumbling back to the 2-22 days either.
“There’s just not much experience across the board, Misenheimer said. “You’re going to see a lot of fresh faces. Hopefully, they’ll become good players.”
Kelly Dulkoski, Allison Blackwell and Katherine Barringer were fresh faces once. When they graduated last spring, they had accumulated 2,989 points.
Dulkoski had a terrific senior season, averaging a school-record 24.1 points, running the halfcourt offense, breaking pressure and providing sound backcourt defense.
Blackwell averaged 14.1 points, rebounded and defended everyone from guards to centers.
Barringer’s scoring average of 4.7 points didn’t really tell her story. She was the perfect fifth player on a team with four scoring options. She rebounded and defended and kept a smile on her face.
Misenheimer returns two starters — guard Kate Cole, and Alex Allen, a player without a defined position.
Allen shoots inside or outside, rebounds like a forward and handles like a guard.
The junior has to be a frequent double-digit scorer for the Cougars, and that shouldn’t be a problem. She averaged 5.8 points last year, but she’s going to get three times as many shots now.
“Alex is versatile,” Misenheimer said. “She not only can play all five positions, she will play all five this year for us. We’ll be relying on her for rebounds, defense, scoring and leadership. She’s a natural leader.”
Cole was mostly a designated 3-point shooter when she was Dulkoski’s sidekick, but Misenheimer expects Cole to step into a meatier role as a senior. She has to handle the ball more, drive more and defend tougher — without getting in foul trouble.
“It was easy to get spoiled when we had Kelly handling the ball for us,” Misenheimer said. “But Kate has a lot of ability, and she’s matured a lot in the last year. She’ll have a good season.”
There are four girls back from last year’s bench.
Megan Gray had a specific role in 2012-13 as a shutdown defender and as someone who could inject quickness into Carson’s lineup. Sydney Huffman shot the ball well in limited action.
Jordan VanVoorhis and Jordy Clark also are names familiar to Carson fans.
Together that foursome combined for 87 points, so it’s not like any of them is suddenly going to blossom into Dulkoski. But they know the system and they’ll be counted on to play a lot more than in the past.
“They’ve kind of paid their dues and now they’re excited about it being their time,” Misenheimer said. “And I’m excited for them.”
Gray is the fastest and springiest of that group.
“She’s still kind of raw offensively, but she should get points off steals and transition,” Misenheimer said. “She’s just so athletic that she’ll be hard to guard.”
Misenheimer said Huffman is the team’s most improved player.
“She can put up points in a hurry,” Misenheimer said. “She shoots well and runs the floor well.”
VanVoorhis was a reserve on Carson’s state runner-up volleyball team, and Misenheimer believes that will be an asset to the basketball squad.
“All she’s known in volleyball is winning and more winning and that rubs off,” Misenheimer said. “She’ll defend and rebound, and she might knock some 3s down.”
Clark is more athletic as a senior.
“She’s gotten stronger and she’ll be one of our best-conditioned players,” Misenheimer said. “She shoots well and plays hard on defense.”
There’s only one player up from the jayvees, junior Chrishona Roberson.
“She’s only 5-foot-6 or 5-7, but she’s very active on the boards,” Misenheimer said. “She has good court sense and a nice little shot.”
Misenheimer is excited to have Lacee Hunsucker, the star softball pitcher, on the team. The junior, a Mars Hill softball commitment, has good hands and will help on the boards.
Misenheimer is excited about the three freshmen she kept with the varsity.
Down the road, they could be the core of the next really stout Carson team. They come from three different middle schools — Destiny Jackson from Erwin, Keara McClary from China Grove, and Kailie Ketchie from Corriher-Lipe.
“Destiny is serious and doesn’t act at all like a freshman,” Misenheimer said. “She has a point guard mentality.”
McClary is athletic and has a high skill level for a freshman. She can attack the basket with either hand and could also help out as a ballhandler.
Misenheimer says Ketchie is still learning defensively, but she can shoot and also has the talent to help right away.
Worse-case scenario: the Cougars should be competitive in the SPC, which may not have any team playing at the high level that North Iredell, West Rowan and Carson played at last season.
Best-case scenario: the freshmen are ready to contribute, and the Cougars surprise everyone by contending.
Misenheimer tabs experienced, tall East Rowan as the preseason favorite, but it’s girls basketball, and a lot of strange things can happen in the course of a 16-game conference schedule.
“We’re going in expecting a lot from our girls,” Misenhiemer said. “We’ve been winning the last three years, and we’ll expect to do it again. We’re not expecting anything different.”