SALISBURY — Salisbury’s girls basketball team will play with grand goals this season — and hope to accomplish them in small ways.
It’s the start of a reconstruction period on Lincolnton Road, where first-year coach Lakai Brice takes the wheel of a team that spun out of control last winter and finished with a sub-.500 overall record. “There was a lot of confusion,” explained senior Monifa Angle. “There was so much going on and we never could adjust to just one coach.”
Brice, a former do-whatever-it-takes point guard for Catawba, expects to stabilize a program that saw Doug Faison abruptly resign as coach at the Christmas tournament. Successor Tony Hillian inherited a team that consistently underachieved, finished 4-6 in CCC play, dropped its conference tournament opener, missed the state playoffs and was sent home in a bad mood.
“When I got the call I was excited,” said Brice, who technically replaced Justin Morgan as coach. “I have such a passion for basketball. I love this game and to give something back to these young girls is something I will enjoy.”
So far Brice is dancing the required steps, even if she’s operating without Brielle and Ashley Blaire — former SHS starters who will suit up for North Rowan this winter. “That’s OK,” said Angle. “Two people don’t make a team.”
They’ll certainly make North a better team while creating playing opportunities here. Angle is one of only two seniors on a Salisbury roster that includes three juniors, two sophomores and six freshmen. Brice may feel like she’s running a daycare at some point this season.
“We’re very, very young,” said Nyasia Harris, a 6-foot-1 senior lefty. “But she sees a lot in us that we may not see in ourselves.”
Brice is keeping the bar low while the Hornets ripen. It’s almost as if she’s keeping one eye on this season and another on the next two. “I’m excited about this year, even with Brielle and Ashley gone. Hey, what can you do? You’ve got to move on. My main goal is I want to rebuild the tradition we’ve had here.”
Salisbury will do that around Angle, Harris and junior Bryana Caldwell. Angle is a heady, 5-9 guard with an accurate shooting eye. She appeared in only one game last year, a late-season loss to East Davidson, and scored five points. “More is expected from her,” Brice said. “She’s always been patient with the ball, I’m hoping she’ll step it up and be the quarterback of this young team.”
Harris appeared in all 25 games for the 2012-13 Hornets and was the team’s fourth-leading scorer (4.3 ppg), netting a career-high 18 points against West Rowan. “Last year she was overshadowed by Brielle and some of the others, but that may have been a good thing,” Brice indicated. “This will be her time. She does all the little things — score from the outside as well the inside, rebound and pass. And she’s a vocal leader for these girls.”
Juniors include guards Caldwell, Sierra Charles and Katie Wolfe. At 5-9 Caldwell is versatile-yet-quiet player who can also line up in the frontcourt. “She’s a hard matchup for opponents,” Brice said. “Very smart and knows the game. She could be a double-double threat.”
Wolfe is a jayvee graduate who can knock down 3-pointers while Charles, a West Rowan transfer, is a strong finisher with sharp passing skills. Sophs Breaja Mashore and Shamora Houston will provide spark off the bench. Mashore is a harassing, defense-minded guard working to improve her offense. Houston, a 5-9 forward/center, is nicknamed “The Bruiser” because of her active hands on defense and authoritative rebounding.
Of the ninth-graders, Brice is most impressed with 5-8 Tyzarea Alexander, a former standout at Knox Middle School who brings fire to the lineup. “She’s full of energy,” said Brice. “And a great defender. She reminds me of De’Rya Wylie from a few years back — not afraid to take a charge or dive for a loose ball. The only problem — and I remind her every day — is that she’s not in middle school anymore. It’s time to grow up.”
SHS also has 5-10 forward Breya Philpot, a two-way player who can finish with either hand and has 15-foot shooting range. Juliana Anderson is a 5-10 graduate of Salisbury Academy with ‘future star’ written all over her. “We knew she was pretty quick and that she could play,” Brice said. “Now we know she’s going to be a leader someday. “She’s tall, she’s vocal and she can shoot the three. She just needs to work on her post moves down low.”
Rounding out the freshman class are Heavenly Robinson, Keahja Jones and Deztane Hightower. Robinson is an inquisitive forward, according to Brice. “She asks the most questions,” she said. “She wants to learn, wants to get better.”
Jones is a high-octane guard and defensive specialist. A feisty player, she’ll provide spark off the bench. And Hightower is a 5-8 swingman who finds a way to score points. “I don’t know how she does it,” Brice wondered. “She’s someone who gets to the right place at the right time. She’s always going to find the ball.”
Salisbury faces a challenging season, but it appears the right personnel are in place to prosper. “If not this year then next,” Brice concluded. “We’ll take our bumps and bruises, but with the six talented freshmen we’ll look to the future. And we’ll be there. We’ll be right there.”
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