The 5th Annual LBI Preseason Scrimmage had 12 talented teams come together for a day of competition and getting better before the regular season gets underway. Here are the reviews of each team that participated.
Veteran CFA Academy head coach Bill Middlebrooks has won 20 or more games in all but one season in his long tenure at the helm of the Eagles girls program. The Concord based program may be hard pressed to reach that standard in the 2018-2019 season, after graduating the entire starting five from a year ago, it may be a rebuilding season for the Eagles squad.
Senior Jada McMillan, a transfer from J.M. Robinson, should shoulder most of the scoring load this season. McMillan can score in a variety of ways and is a crafty weak side defender who uses her speed and instincts to convert steals in to easy opportunities on the opposite end.
The Eagles will have to hang their hat on their defense until a second scorer emerges to alleviate the scoring burden which falls on McMillan. This version of the Eagles may play more zone defense than is the norm for a CFA Academy team but the Eagles won’t likely abandon their full-court trapping defenses which have been the hallmark of their success over the years.
Middlebrooks has no true post presence on the 11-player roster but there are a plethora of hardnosed, scrappy athletes who excel when they are able to disrupt things on the defensive end. Perhaps the best of the bunch is sophomore Bailey Stinson, a key reserve on last year’s NCISAA 2A State semi-finalist squad. Stinson, a superb on ball defender with active hands and feet, creates steals for herself and her teammates. Her continued development would be a bonus to an inexperienced cfa Academy squad. Newcomers Zykiah Benjamin and Ariana Brown should provide depth on the perimeter. Benjamin is a classic slasher who is not afraid to mix it up in the paint.
The inexperienced Eagles will have to grow up in a hurry if the program wants to maintain the lofty standard set by their predecessors. 15-18 wins is a realistic goal for the three time defending Metrolina Athletic Conference Champions. A return trip to the state semifinals may be a bit of a reach but a lot will depend on how quickly the new lineup jells.
Sun Valley may find wins hard to come by this winter. Paul Swartz’s squad plays hard and at times they play a smart brand of basketball but with just one player over 5’8” and no proven go-to scorer the Spartans figure to struggle this season.
The key to the fortunes of the Sun Valley team this season lie squarely on the shoulders of a quartet of veteran players. Senior Na’jah Carpenter provides the inside presence and rebounding despite standing just 5’6”. Carpenter is strong enough to mix it up down low but against more experienced and taller opposition her lack of height may work against her. Senior Sierra Smith and junior Cianna Rodriguez are capable athletes on the wing who will be looked to for additional scoring punch. Out front the catalyst for Sun Valley is 5’”6 junior McKenzie Knight. Knight has next-level skills and could emerge as a household name down in Monroe by seasons end. Knight is super quick and her ability off the dribble makes her a threat against even the most seasoned opponents.
The Trojans could reach double-figures in wins depending on how their early season schedule breaks out and the continued development of Smith and Rodriguez on the wings.
The Rebels figure to win their share of games this season for two good reasons-they are fundamentally sound and they play hard from whistle to whistle. If Parkwood can cut down on turnovers and find a way to create more easy transition opportunities they could emerge as a sleeper pick come playoff time later this season.
Parkwood has a budding star in freshman Emma Barnes. Barnes is a crafty ball handler with a knack for getting to the rim. Junior Kayla Barnes is a solid perimeter shooter and sophomore Courtney Liles is a deceptively athletic floor leader with above average floor vision. Parkwood has a dominant post presence in the form of 5-10 junior Chloe Hardy. Hardy plays much larger than her size and has all the tools to be an impact player at the collegiate level. A tough, physical player, Hardy has a high basketball IQ and the teams fortunes may very well rise and fall on their ability to incorporate Hardy in to the game plan on both ends.
This is the time of year when almost all coaches are full of optimism and speak in hushed tones about potential. Down in Matthews the Butler Bulldogs have a lot to be jubilant about. Coach Mark Sanders squad comes at teams in waves. A solid group of starters who match up well with most teams in the region and a strong bench rotation make Butler a team to be feared in the 2018-19 season. The team is chock full of athletes and they play the game with intensity. Getting through their conference schedule with their pre-season swag intact will be no easy chore
The Bulldogs love to press and run and the key to making that possible on both ends of the floor come in the forms of 6-1 junior Michaela Lane and 5-11 senior Michaela Dixon. The pair are relentless on the glass and capable finishers in traffic. On the defensive end they alter almost as many shots as they block which helps trigger Butlers transition game. The perimeter is capably manned by junior Ashlyn Dotson and quietly efficient lead guard Payton Sutton. Sutton is an unselfish floor leader who can score when needed. A wiry defender with active hands and feet, Sutton creates countless easy opportunities for her teammates as the trigger woman in the teams transition offense. 5-11 senior wing Hailey Nance is a classic slasher and a legit double figure scoring threat. Renee Kennedy and Michala Funderburk use their versatility and outside shooting ability to give the Bulldogs more lineup options as game situations dictate. Naoura Aboutaleb serves as a capable backcourt reserve allowing the team to go 10-deep with little drop off in productivity.
A conference championship run is well within Butlers reach this season. If the squad can stay injury free they have all the pieces present to make a substantial post-season run in a highly competitive 4A field.
The more things change the more they stay the same. Despite having a lot of new faces in key roles expectations run high for Coach Cristie Mitchells South Meck girls squad. A very athletic team, the Sabres have the size and depth to create matchup nightmares for all but the upper echelon teams. They are extremely well coached and should be even more formidable as players become acclimated with their new roles and expectations.
Senior guard/forward Shariah Gaddy should be the most feared Sabre. After a standout junior season the versatile Gaddy appears poised for an encore performance as a senior. Whether it is scoring, ball handling, rebounding or engineering a defensive stop the 6-0 Gaddy is usually up to the task regardless of the opposition. Look for 6-3 junior Jaclyn Feit to give the squad a solid presence on the boards at both ends of the floor and provide some offensive punch.
Sophomore Mya Olmeda handles most of the primary ball-handling chores with versatile swing guard Jadin Alexander filling voids inside and out. A pair of freshman guards should also make an impact as regulars in the Sabres lineup- 5-6 guard Senali Moss and 5-10 guard/forward Katie Houpt bring athleticism and length to the table among other intangibles.
Expectations run high at the state’s largest high school. This group should not disappoint.
Led by Hickory Ridge transfer Reigan Richardson, Cannon could emerge as one of the NCISAA most improved teams this season. Richardson is one of the most highly sought after players in the region and with just cause. She is a true difference maker on both ends of the court….blocked shots, rebounding, assists and scoring are all in her bag of tricks. If Cannon can find a consistent second scorer to pair with Richardson there is no way of knowing how quickly this group could become a consistent winner.
5-5 Sophomore Gabby Edwards is a whippet at the point and excels at getting the Cougars in to their half court sets. Edwards is a solid on-ball defender. 5-8 senior Caroline Livingston gives the Cougars a long range perimeter threat while senior guard Sane Davis, a capable finisher in transition, provides a veteran presence in the backcourt. Sophomore Sydney Wood is another key cog in the Cannon rotation this season. Her ability to knock down mid-range jumpers may free Richardson up to do other things.
Richardson can’t single-handedly turn the program at Cannon around however if the players around her do their part she can certainly get the Cougars headed in the right direction.
The old adage “speed kills” certainly applies to this bunch. The faster the pace the more they excel. Overall team quickness and athleticism allow them to dictate tempo against most opponents. They are a very complete high school team who can put five guards on the floor and still hold their own defensively. A lot of good teams look impressive in offensive transition but North Augusta exploits teams with their defensive speed-trapping and covering a lot of ground when they happen to be out of position. If they have an Achilles heel it may be youth and consistent long-range shooting. The varsity roster includes four freshmen and a pair of eighth graders but the team is led by a quartet comprised of juniors and seniors. Aaliyah Bell is a diminutive senior PG who loves to push the pace and is difficult to trap despite her stature. 5-7 junior wing J’Mani Ingram is a tremendous finisher in transition with a next level skill set. Tyliah Burns is a defensive stalwart capable of guarding multiple positions. Senior Mya Burns is a 5-11 swing who plays long and is extremely athletic. Burns has a high hoop IQ and facilitates a lot of the teams success from the high post when North Augusta runs a half court set.
If the team can consistently knock down perimeter jump shots they are poised for a deep playoff run at seasons end.
Watching this squad play is like watching greyhounds run…they have two speeds-fast and faster. As the intensity increases the better they seemed to perform. The problem for the opposition is trying to figure out how to slow Ridge View down.
Sophomore Ariyanna Daney is one of the ringleaders in Ridge Views up-tempo attack. Simply put she is dynamite at both ends. Super quick with excellent hands and feet, Daney makes things happen on both ends of the court. Her perimeter shooting was a bit inconsistent but she more than compensates with athleticism and tenacity. Junior Mya Middleton is an extremely pesky defender who loves to push the pace from her point guard position. Senior Aliyahh Kelley defends with vigor and is tough to stop off dribble penetration.
The best of the bunch may just be sophomore swingwoman Laila Acox. A 6-footer with a diverse skill set, Acox can handle the ball and her ability to shoot a legitimate pull-up jumper coupled with finishing ability in traffic make her a match-up nightmare for the opposition.
This is a dangerous squad which should make a ruckus come state tournament time.
Legacy Early College
On any given day Legacy is part of the discussion as one of the best squads in South Carolina. They are deep, athletic and play with a swagger that most high school squads simply can not match. Led by a trio of senior veterans Legacy is at their best when the pace picks up.
6-1 senior forward Azriela Folkes is a presence on the perimeter who is not afraid to mix it up down low when needed. Senior guard Madison Tyler is a complete player who can impact the game on both ends. Look for 5-10 combo guard Randria Anderson to make an impression this season as well. Anderson has an array of floaters and slashing moves at her disposal and can score points in bunches. When the game is on the line Legacy can always turn to 6-0 senior Anayah Rice to make something happen. Rice is an elite-level scorer who does everything well. Capable of defending multiple positions, Rice is also a stalwart on the glass who is at her best in open floor situations.
Legacy will need to adjust to a coaching change at the top but that shouldn’t deter from the team being one of the premier teams in Upstate South Carolina.
Don’t sleep on the Cavaliers this year. Despite a roster that includes six players who are freshmen or sophomores Cuthbertson is poised to have another successful season. Coach Joel Allens squad is fundamentally sound and extremely competitive. Although they are solid in transition the Cavs are at their best in a controlled tempo where their execution and talent separate them from most high school squads.
Junior Lauryn Hardiman is a tough, hard-nosed ballplayer with good instincts and court awareness. Sophomore Maddie Dillinger is a 6-footer who handles a lot of the ball handling chores. Dillinger has a next level skill set and her ability to play anywhere on the court make her an invaluable asset for Cuthbertson. Junior Lillian Anderson is a key performer for the Cavs. The senior pivot is strong and has a solid understanding of post play. Anderson can handle the rock when needed and has a deft mid-range shooting touch. Basketball is a team game but this squads success may very well hinge on Andersons production in the middle.
A deep post season run is certainly a possibility for Cuthbertson. The key pieces are in place and if a few of the younger players emerge this could be the team no one wants to see at tournament time.
Reports of the Mavericks demise are greatly exaggerated. Coach C.J Johnson’s squad was hit hard by graduation but weep not for “The Creek”. There is plenty of talent on board for the 2018-19 season. The Mallard Creek playbook never changes. They just consistently churn out hard-nosed aggressive, defensive minded players year after year. Another Maverick trademark is a 1-2-2 half-court trap. Opponents know it’s coming but dealing with Mallard Creeks’ speed and tenacity is often difficult to prepare for.
Look for senior twins Sierra and Sydney Hunter to continue to terrorize the opposition down low for the Mavericks. Sydney Hunter is deceptively agile and plays much bigger than her 6-1 frame. Sierra Hunter is close to automatic scoring the ball from the low post. The two insure that the Mavericks will never be outmatched on the glass. Junior guard Deshonti Lutz has a very high motor and is tough to slow off the dribble. Karina Mitchell is a senior guard who will be counted on for ball handling, defense and additional scoring punch.
Sophomore Kennedy Simpson has the abilty to take over games with her shooting and defensive skill set. The 6-foot wing handles like a point guard and has range to stroke the 3-ball consistently. Her length and athleticism enable her to get to the rim against most any defender. Look for All-State Guard Dazia Lawrence to close out her career with flair. Look for the dazzling senior to increase her scoring production to compensate for the graduation losses. Lawrence can score the ball in every way imaginable but her court vision and savvy allow her to get others involved in the action.
The Mavericks have reached the state semifinals in two of the last three seasons. Until and unless someone comes along to derail them we can expect a similar run from Mallard Creek. It will take a gargantuan effort to knock King Kong off the perch. Don’t expect the Mavericks to go quietly.
No denying that coach Stephanie Butler’s squad is loaded heading in to the 2018-19 campaign. The Stallions boast the best top to bottom talent of any team in the region and perhaps the only thing that might stymie this juggernaut is themselves. South Pointe goes 10 deep and they like to bring defensive pressure from wire-to-wire.
The Stallions have a dominant post presence with the arrival of 6-2 center Sierra McCullough. A major D-1 recruit, McCullough will be the back end enforcer that the Stallions lacked a season ago. The guard heavy lineup will be spearheaded by junior guard Jamia Blake. Blake, an unselfish superstar, is a dynamo with the ball in her hands and does a superb job of sharing the ball in transition. 5-6 senior point guard keeps defenses honest and her playmaking capabilities prevents teams from focusing too much attention on Blake and McCullough.
Cuthbertson team huddled up during LBI Preseason Scrimmage