High school girls basketball: Wilkerson, Bryant, Spry share top honor
Published 12:02 am Sunday, April 3, 2022
By Mike London
SALISBURY — North Rowan senior Hannah Wilkerson and Carson senior Mary Spry were voted conference players of the year by coaches, while Salisbury junior Kyla Bryant earned the ultimate accolade as 2A state championship MVP.
It’s hard to imagine North even fielding a competitive program without Wilkerson, a stat-sheet stuffer who racked up 1,589 points and was the face of the Cavaliers for four seasons. She led a seven-person North squad to a 20-9 season.
Without Spry, Carson would have been average this season, at best. With Spry, who scored over 1,200 career points, the Cougars, who rostered eight girls, were 25-4 and reached the regional level in the 3A state playoffs.
Bryant already has scored 1,150 points. She had, by far, the most help of the three, but she also led a 28-1 team in scoring, assists and steals while shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers. She did most of the ball-handling and contributed strong defense.
So who is Rowan County Player of the Year? The most reasonable solution is to recognize all three. All three have put in the work. All three have been role models for Rowan County youngsters.
The 5-foot-8 Wilkerson, who is headed to Columbia International University, and the 6-foot Spry, a Catawba College signee, both are trained by former North Rowan athlete Dominique Bates.
“Hannah and I were always on opposite teams in his workouts and a lot of times we were guarding each other,” Spry said. “The key to those workouts was doing everything at full speed, taking the same shots you’ll be taking in games at game speed. Those workouts did a lot for my footwork and ball-handling.”
Carson won the 3A state championship in 2020, but graduated four of its top six. Spry was handed a very different job description this season, shooting more 3-pointers and taking on a ball-handling role when teams pressed the Cougars.
“There always was a big girl on me, so it wasn’t hard for me to bring the ball up against pressure, Spry said.
Spry averaged 15.8 points while shooting 51 percent on 2-pointers, 74 percent on free throws and 33 percent from 3. She led the Cougars with 9.1 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. She led in charges taken. She was second on the team in assists and steals.
“She was so efficient,” Carson head coach Brooke Stouder said. “Mary is never going to take a bad shot. She’s never going to force anything. Every team we played game-planned to stop her and defenses swarmed all over her, especially the second half of the season, but she was always productive and found ways to help her teammates score and to help us win. She has a great passion for the game. When you see that look in her eyes, you can see how competitive she is.”
Spry should be a big addition for Catawba with her combination of skills and size. She’s not playing this offseason, but she works out and works as a ticket scanner for the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers.
Wilkerson credited Bates for the stamina that helped her perform at a high level all season.
“When you’ve got a team with just two girls on the bench, you know you’re not going to get more than a 30-second break, now and then,” Wilkerson said. “And you really have to move your feet on defense. You know you can’t get into foul trouble.”
Wilkerson averaged 17.2 points for the Cavaliers, although that tells only a small part of the story.
“Hannah was asked to do multiple things since her freshman year, and she has done everything for this program for four years,” North head coach Anthia Smith said. “She played 1 through 5 and she performed at a very high level. She faced box-and-ones, she faced double-teams and triple-teams, but she did what she does. She’s a guard who can go out there and do everything from making 3-pointers to getting double-figure rebounds.”
Wilkerson set a goal of scoring 1,500 points, and she got there despite COVID limiting her junior season to 12 games. But the points were never forced. She took good shots and always got a bigger kick out of an assist than a bucket.
“I accepted the challenge of being someone who could do everything on the court, whether it was blocking shot, getting a steal or making the right pss,” Wilkerson said. “I had some individual goals, but I quickly found that when your priority is making your team better, the personal stuff will usually happen for you. I tried to be a leader at all time and my young teammates competed better than anyone believed we could.”
Beyond the numbers, Smith said Wilkerson was incredibly important to the program because she stayed through thick and thin.
“She always understood what being a Cavalier meant, and she owned that,” Smith said. “She’s the most humble person you’ll ever meet, but North started winning her freshman year. That shouldn’t be overlooked.”
Smith said the Columbia International coaches came and watched Wilkerson’s game at Salisbury. That was probably the most adversity she faced, getting in early foul trouble. But she scored 17, got her teammates involved, competed to the end. The coaches liked what they saw.
“She never gets out of character, and that’s the beautiful thing about her,” Smith said. “The South Davidson coach told me that she always showed leadership, always stayed poised, never let her emotions get the best of her. And I have to agree. That’s Hannah.”
Wilkerson will be back in the gym with Bates as she prepares to move on to college, and there are days when she’ll put up 500 shots.
It’s a work ethic that has paid off.
Bryant actually began the season playing pretty miserably, missing shots and clanging free throws.
There was a reason. Her right wrist was swollen and discolored.
“We lost a game early to Apex Friendship, and Kyla blamed herself,” said Lakai Brice, Salisbury’s head coach and Bryant’s mother. “We had a week coming up with Carson, Northwest Guilford and West Rowan, but we talked about Kyla resting the wrist and trying to get healthy. But she wanted to play, and it was like, ‘OK, but if you’re going to play, you’ve got to really play.'”
Bryant turned things around fairly quickly. She rehabbed the wrist. Eventually, she shots started falling, and the free throws became automatic.
“The mental part of that injury was worse than the physical part,” Bryant said. “But I got it back.”
Bryant averaged 17.2 points, but it obviously could have been a lot more. Salisbury had a dominant team. Most regular-season games were dramatically shortened by running clocks. Starters often sat down for the second and fourth quarters.
The 5-foot-9 guard has been a terrific player since she was a freshman, but she’s still getting better. She was quicker laterally this season, jumped higher, ran faster.
“I played a lot against boys, played with (Salisbury boys star) Juke Harris before he got so tall, and it makes you quicker trying to stay in front of boys,” Bryant said.
Brice leaves most of the coaching of Bryant to assistant coach Andrew Mitchell. That makes things easier on the mother-daughter relationship, and the results have been good.
“I was pleased with how Kyla played this season,” Brice said. “She was sitting down, trusting her feet and playing very good defense. She was stronger from being in the weight room all summer. She did a better job of staying out of foul trouble. She really wants to be good. She’s always working. At 6 a.m,.she’s in the gym. Sometimes she want to stay in the gym and I have to tell her it’s time to go home.”
Bryant says the Hornets can do it again in 2023 “if they can keep the same mindset.”
She’s playing for a big-time AAU team now, the Southeast All-Stars, a team with a number of major D-I commits. The girls meet for practices in Atlanta and fly to tournaments.
“Kyla came back from the first practice and said she was surprised she was starting,” Brice said. “I told her not to be surprised. She’s beginning to realize what she can be.”
It was a deep year for Rowan County girls basketball with Salisbury’s 2A state champs winning 28 and Carson winning 25, including three playoff games.
West Rowan was 17-7 and was 17-2 when it wasn’t playing Carson or Salisbury. North Rowan was 20-9 and was 17-2 playing teams outside Rowan County.
Fifteen Rowan girls were voted by coaches to the all-conference teams for either the South Piedmont or Central Carolina. The Post will recognize all 15 as all-county. No more will be added to that long list, even though based on the stat sheet, West’s Emma Clarke looks like a glaring omission. Based on intangible contributions to their teams, you could make a case for Salisbury’s Mary Morgan, East’s Madie Honeycutt and some others.
Kyla Bryant, Salisbury Jr. — Handled the ball for the 2A state champs, led the team in scoring and always accepted one of the tougher defensive assignments
Hannah Wilkerson, North Sr. — Voted conference player of the year for the second time and finished a stellar career third on North’s all-time scoring list
Mary Spry, Carson Sr. — South Piedmont Conference Player of the Year and Catawba signee was an efficient scorer with solid shooting percentages and added nice across-the-board stats
Lauren Arnold,West Jr. — Talented rebounder/scorer, she put in 16.7 points per game to lead the Falcons
Bethany Rymer, South Sr. — Lefty came out of “retirement” from basketball to lead South back to competitiveness, paced the county in scoring average with 19.8 points per game, led South in assists and steals
Bailee Goodlett, North So. — Great speed and quickness led to a ton of steals and transition buckets, put up 534 points to lead the county, scored 18.4 per game
Rachel McCullough, Salisbury Sr. — Averaged 13.4 points, surpassed 1,000 career points and was an improved defender and rebounder
Hannah Isley, Carson Sr. — Consistent force for the Cougars, averaged 14.2 points and 6,3 rebounds
Jamecia Huntley, Salisbury Jr. — Could guard anyone, led the Hornets in rebounding and second in assists, made the biggest bucket of the year to give Salisbury the regional final win against Shelby
De’Mya Phifer, West So. — Explosive guard turned in some devastating games and averaged 15.7 points
Mackenzie Chabala, South Jr. — Nearly averaged a double-double (10.7 points, 9.4 rebounds), shot 38 percent from 3 and cheerfully took charges
Brittany Ellis, North So. —Strong athlete with great shooting range, scored 11.7 points per game
Hannah Waddell, East So. — Produced several huge scoring games and led the Mustangs with 11.7 points per game
Jaleiah Gibson, Salisbury Sr. — Defender and rebounder was instrumental in the Hornets’ playoff run
Camden Corley, Carson Sr. — Point guard may have been the county’s most improved player, led the Cougars with 3.8 assists per game