Girls basketball: Christmas tournament preview

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 26, 2014

SALISBURY — There were some recent seasons in which Salisbury’s girls were so dominant they could’ve been handed the trophy and patted on the back before the Sam Moir Christmas Classic even got under way.

The Hornets won nine tournaments in a row from 2003-2011, effectively draining every ounce of suspense from the girls bracket. By the end of their incredible run, it was hard for even the Hornets not to yawn, but they were great. In a five-year stretch, they won consecutive championship games by 17, 49, 19, 40 and 25 points.

Last season, North Rowan had a strong team and East Rowan had a very good team. Their meeting in the championship game — both were still unbeaten and healthy at the time —  was a foregone conclusion when the  2013 tournament began. North Rowan won big for its fourth tournament title.

But the Classic that starts on Saturday has a different feel. No one comes in undefeated and no one comes in as a sure finalist. Fans of at least four teams — East Rowan, Davie, South Rowan and North Rowan — believe they can win it.

Then there’s Carson. No one really wants to play Carson because the Cougars make every game  a leave-it-on-the-floor struggle. Carson lost by seven to East Rowan and by four to South Rowan.

Then there’s Mooresville. The addition of the Blue Devils makes it an  eight-team tournament, eliminates the first-day bye for the No. 1 seed, guarantees every team three games, and adds an element of mystery.

West Rowan is the only team in the field that  has played Mooresville this season, and the Falcons lost by 19. Top-seeded East Rowan beat the Falcons by 23, so maybe Mooresville is in the championship mix as well.

Tournament seeds are based on pre-Christmas records: Seeds are 1. East Rowan (8-1), 2. Davie (7-2), 3. South Rowan (6-3), 4. Mooresville (5-3), 5. Carson (5-5), 6. North Rowan (3-3), 7. West Rowan (4-6) and 8. Salisbury (2-8).

Carson won a coin flip with North Rowan for No. 5.

The first-day matchups:  South Rowan vs. North Rowan (9 a.m.),  Davie vs. West Rowan (noon); East Rowan vs. Salisbury (3 p.m.), and Mooresville vs. Carson (6 p.m.).

The first-rounder  to keep an eye on is very experienced South Rowan  vs. defending champ North Rowan, although it’s uncertain how many people will actually be in Goodman Gym for  that one because it’s the early game that kicks off the 24-game  tournament.

North Rowan’s quickness, combined with a sizzling shooting night, overwhelmed South Rowan 78-48 when the teams played early this season. Whether South Rowan can do a better job of taking care of the ball in the rematch remains to be seen.

North Rowan has little size, but that’s not an issue against a South Rowan team that is also small.

North Rowan is considerably more dangerous than its seed would suggest. The Cavaliers have lost twice to strong 4As (Ardrey Kell and R.J. Reyolds) and to a talented Winston-Salem Prep squad.

Seniors Avery Locklear (UNC Pembroke signee)  and Cassidy Chipman combine for 35 points per game for the Raiders. Special Washington, Demeria Robinson and Aliyah Farmer average double figures for the Cavaliers, who average 15 steals per game.

South Rowan has lost six straight games in the tournament since a first-round win against North Rowan in 2011.

East Rowan has won 70 Moir games  over the years — a lot more than anyone else — but hasn’t won the event since 2002. The Mustangs have a solid  chance to end the drought  thanks to strong defense and a combination of  speed (junior twins Shenell and Shenique Pharr) and size (6-3 UNC Asheville signee Kelli Fisher averages 18.2 ppg.) . East Rowan has the momentum of a five-game winning streak.

Davie hasn’t won the tournament since 2000, but it comes in with a seven-game winning streak, a high-scoring guard in Madison Zaferatos (17.2 ppg.) and three 6-footers who can rebound. Davie beat Carson by 12 in its only action against Rowan schools.

Senior Alex Allen (16.5 ppg.) is a skilled, all-round standout for undersized Carson, while freshman Olivia Gabriel (14.5 ppg.) makes things happen with quickness. Carson has never won the tournament, although it reached the final in 2010 and 2011.

Senior guard Amber Sherrill (13.3 ppg.) has been the top player for a Mooresville team that averages 50 points. She’s also  averaging 4.6 steals per game.

Junior guards Khaila Hall (12.4 ppg.) and Taylor Martin (11.7 ppg.) lead West Rowan.

Salisbury is young and lost 61-25 to East Rowan in its last pre-Christmas outing.