There are tributes to the late Ronnie Gallagher throughout the county this year. Ronnie appreciated all sports, but he had a special place in his heart for basketball.
An extreme example would be North Rowan senior Michael Connor, who shaved RIP Gallagher into his head after a suggestion from his mother.
“He was always good to us,” Connor said. “I decided that I’m going to dedicate my last season to him.”
West coach and dear friend to Ronnie, Mike Gurley, is also helping out. Gurley has ‘hired’ Ronnie’s son Mackie Gallagher to be a student assistant coach. It’s more involved than it sounds. Gallagher will be at the games on the bench beside Gurley, with his input just as vital as assistant Kevin Parks.
“I want him to dress up and look nice and feel part of the coaching staff,” Gurley said. “It doesn’t mean you’re the water boy. It’s good to have him around.”
DEAR Ol’ DAD: Someone who’s been around Gurley for years is his dad, Bob Gurley, who Mike put in the team picture. You can find Bob at just about any West game.
“This is my 17th year coaching at West,” Gurley said. “For 16 years, he’s been at every game supporting us.”
RECORD HOLDER: Gurley is 342-111 at West, a run that has included 10 20-win seasons, seven regional trips and two state titles, and every time the West boys win, he adds to the all-time record for basketball coaching victories in Rowan County.
Gurley had six straight 20-game winners from 1998-2003 and four straight from 2007-10.
Gurley was 102-39 at Lexington before coming to West, so his lifetime record is 444-150.
HANDY ANDY: Former Livingstone women’s coach Andrew Mitchell, who starred as a player at North Rowan and Catawba, is putting up a stellar coaching record in Rowan’s high schools. In five seasons, his teams have never won fewer than 25 games.
He coached the Salisbury girls to a 58-3 record and two state championships in two seasons.
He’s coached North Rowan’s boys to a 79-13 record and one state championship in three seasons.
WHEN YOU’RE HOT, YOU’RE HOT: The Wonders open at home against South Rowan on Thursday, and that’s the one team A.L. Brown’s girls shot well against last season. The Wonders, who averaged 41 points, scored 65 and 72 in sweeping the Raiders.
Of course, South coach Jarrod Smith will tell you every team shot too well against his team, which broke the school record for points allowed. South’s offseason focus has been strictly on defense.
NEW SPC: East Rowan boys coach Trey Ledbetter has a unique view of the new-look South Piedmont 3A Conference, comprised of four Rowan schools and five from Cabarrus County.
“It will be a very tough league. I look at it like ACC football stepping into the SEC with an upper echelon of athletes,” Ledbetter said. “They try to out-physical you down in Cabarrus, so I try to instill in our players that they are going to have to try and out-physical some guys this year. It is going to be totally different from the NPC, for sure.”
PLAYOFFS: Speaking of the new nine-team SPC, the league will apparently only be guaranteed three playoff spots for both boys and girls. Wild-card spots will still be available to fill out the state playoff field but the battle for those three guaranteed slots, especially on the boys side will be fierce.
STRONGER EVERY DAY: There weren’t many seniors in the county last season, and three of Rowan’s SPC boys teams figure to be better than they were a year ago.
Carson has four starters back, South has four starters back, and West has 99 percent of its scoring back.
4,4,4 and 4 MAN: Ledbetter was mostly kidding when he was asked to decribe junior forward Sam Wyrick. “He can shoot it, but he is really a consistent all-around player,” Ledbetter said. “On any given night, he will get 4 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 assists and 4 fouls and drive me insane…but he gives 100 percent all of the time.”
BRAINTRUST: East girls coach Danielle Porter is entering her fourth season at the helm and is coming off her first winning season, 15-11, in 2012-13. Back to assist her is Amanda Paffrath, who starred at Pfeiffer as Amanda Joplin, and Ashley Collins, a 1,000-point scoring machine in her time at East.
LIGHTER LOAD: It wasn’t exactly like a burden has been lifted, but last season provided some unique challenges for Porter. She spent the entire season pregnant with a due date that closely coincided with the end of the season. But all ended well as East concluded its season at the end of February, then young Daniel Hampton Porter made his debut on March 5. Now almost 9 months old, young Daniel will be a fixture at East games this season. He may even do a little coaching. “He will be ready,” Mom reports, “Daniel has a Mustang onesie already.”
Porter also admitted that the task of coaching a high school team while pregnant was taxing mentally and physically. But it was worth the effort and the outcome was perfect.
FULL THROTTLE: East has been known in recent seasons for its strong inside game, featuring Karleigh Wike and Kelli Fisher. But Porter plans to crank it up a notch this season with the versatile Amani Ajayi and the addition of sophomore twin speedsters Shenique and Shenell Pharr.
“We are really going to try and speed up the tempo this year with our transition game,” Porter said.
With that said, East’s game will still revolve around the high-low inside presence of Wike and Fisher…and a Wike dunk on a fastbreak might not be out of the question.
“I would like to see that,” Porter said.
East’s 6-4 forward Dock Corpening think it’s possible as well.
“I would just have to coach her up and work with her a little bit,” he said.
MILESTONES: Assuming everyone stays healthy (knock on wood) a number of Rowan players will reach the 1,000 point milestone this season and one could reach 2,000.
Brielle Blaire scored 1,581 points at Salisbury before transferring to North Rowan for her senior year. Only three Rowan girls in the modern era have reached 2,000 (Salisbury’s Shayla Fields and North’s Stephanie Cross and Sophilia Hipps).
Also at North is former West Rowan star Nycieko Dixon, who has 987 points. The senior could get 1,000 in her first game in a North uniform.
South junior Avery Locklear has 876 points. East senior Karleigh Wike has 823.
Carson’s senior duo of Tre Williams (782) and Colton Laws (728) are on track for the milestone, and North’s senior duo of Michael Connor (718) and Michael Bowman (644) could get there. North’s scoring is always balanced, but North also figures to play a bunch of games this season.
Other boys with more than 500 points entering the season are: South’s Shawn Spry (569) and West’s Devin Parks (525) and Seth Martin (514).
Other girls with more than 500 points entering this season are: North’s Demeria Robinson (565) and East’s Kelli Fisher (510).
COACHES: Salisbury boys coach Jason Causby has 131 wins, ninth on the county list, and could move past Charles Hellard into eighth if the Hornets win 14 games.
Mitchell should celebrate his 100th coaching win at North this season. He has 79 in the bank.
There’s been so much turnover among the county’s girls coaches that Carson’s Brooke Misenheimer has been around the longest. Misenheimer has 77 wins. She’s 77-102, but you have to remember the Cougars started off 4-67 in her first three years.
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