By Charles Curcio, Sports Editor
Monday, November 19, 2012 —
The three Stanly County high schools competing in the Yadkin Valley Conference this season (Albemarle, Gray Stone and South Stanly) will open their conference schedules in the next few weeks with the hopes of earning conference glory as well as trips to the postseason.
South Stanly features two new head coaches as Sean Whitley stepped down from both positions to become the athletic director for the Rebel Bulls athletics program.
Gray Stone will be the first team to open their basketball season with games at non-conference opponent Mount Pleasant on Monday. The Knights will then play in the Community School of Davidson tip-off tournament this Friday and Saturday.
Albemarle head coach Al Andrew enters his 20th season this year as the head coach of the Bulldogs boys’ basketball squad with a 330-162 overall record (67.1 percent).
Andrew returns eight players from last year’s 16-7 team that went 13-3 in the Yadkin Valley Conference, reaching the semifinals of the YVC tournament and the opening round of the state 1A playoffs.
Due to the Bulldogs’ deep run in the football playoffs, nine of Andrew’s players have not yet practiced with the team. However, the Bulldogs’ first game is not scheduled until Dec. 4 when Albemarle is scheduled to travel to North Rowan.
Albemarle will also be without Gregory Childress, last year’s All-SNAP Player of the year and an All-YVC selection, after his transfer to Concord.
Returning for the Bulldogs is Deon Christian, who was named All-YVC and All-SNAP last season and is described by Andrew as “a super athlete who can score inside and out.” The team will need Christian’s leadership, according to Andrew.
Markez Brown is a senior point guard with a “team before self attitude,” according to Andrew, who said that his “biggest concern is at point guard with the loss of Childress, but I know that Markez, Terrace or Shawn can do the job,” referring to sophomores Terrace Ellis and Shawn Baldwin.
T’Kyle Williams returns for his senior season with the Bulldogs and is the best defensive player on the team with an improved shot on offense, according to Andrew.
In the paint, Andrew has players like 6’3” 260-pound Lee Autry, a hard-working “lefty with a soft touch” who Andrew said likely will start at center for Albemarle.
Senior post player Rashad Baldwin returns and “has a chance to help this year” as well as senior guard/forward Alvin Currie, who Andrew said “is a tough kid who rebounds and plays bigger than he is.”
Juniors Bryan Blanton and Andre Ridenhour also return for the Bulldogs.
Newcomers include Ellis, whom Andrew described as “young, athletic and smart” along with Baldwin who is “a smart player.” Both will have a chance to play immediately.
Trey Nivens is a quick sophomore guard that has “a big upside,” according to Andrew.
Senior Delonte Crowder and junior Travis Bennett will also play for the Bulldogs this season.
“We will get a late start due to football playoffs, but we have a chance to be a good basketball team in time,” Andrew said, adding that the Bulldogs are “a great group of young men with good attitudes.” The Bulldogs coach also added that he thought the team would be deeper this year.
The Knights have four returning players, none of whom are seniors, to a team that went 1-19 last season and 1-15 in the YVC.
Juniors Alex Wang and SamHill Jennings have the most experience for head coach Myron Harrington. Wang brings experience and a good work ethic to the point guard position, while Jennings ran cross-country and is in good shape for his position in the front court, according to Harrington.
Also returning are sophomores Reid Huckabee and David Singletary. Huckabee will play both point and shooting guard after being the only player last season that played in every game. Singletary started several games last year for Gray Stone at forward and is bigger and stronger this year.
Two juniors that return to the team after missing last season will be John Latimer and Will Huckabee, both quick, athletic guards that can provide leadership and improved defense.
Mason Shell is a junior forward that played on JV two seasons ago while Kyle Lantz is a sophomore shooting guard that led the JV Knights in scoring last year.
The team’s most versatile player according to Harrington is freshman Ray Kowalski.
Another newcomer to the squad is 6’3” sophomore Ryder Mansfield, the tallest player on the Gray Stone squad.
“We are going to be very young and small. We will have difficulty matching up with a lot of teams in our conference, but I am really excited about our chances. Everyone has been working hard,” Harrington said.
New head coach Mike Crump takes over a Rebel Bulls team that was 6-18 last season and 2-14 in the YVC, losing four seniors to graduation that included starters Corey Craig and Heath Blackmon.
Crump brings nine years of experience coaching at the JV level at both North and South Stanly to the head boys’ coach at South, having posted a record of 104-91 in those seasons.
Regarding his goals for the program, Crump said the main goal was “to improve each game and change the mindset of South Stanly basketball to being a positive.”
Junior point guard Machard Richardson (7.8 ppg, 2.4 assists per game) and wing Juwan Johnson (5.5 ppg) are expected to be the leaders of the team both on and off the court, according to Crump. Richardson led the team in assists and was third on the team in scoring.
Newcomers that look promising this season for South Stanly include Luke Burris and Wes Smith.
“We will play hard each and every game, and we will need to give maximum effort to be competitive,” Crump said.
The Bulldogs girls’ basketball team looks to improve from last seasons’ 5-15 overall record and 3-13 mark in the YVC for first-year varsity head coach Elbert Branch.
Six seniors graduated from last year’s squad, but Albemarle’s success this season may be due in large part to their outstanding junior forward Akela Branch. Last year’s Co-Stanly and YVC Player of the Year, Branch averaged 18.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, despite missing several games due to injury. She posted a season-high 22 rebounds against North Moore and 35 points in a two-point loss to Gray Stone.
The Bulldogs have five seniors this season, including Carrie Barrino, Janell Bruton, Katie Dick, Jamacia Stanback and Morgan Swink.
One other upperclassman, junior Taria Hall, and five underclassmen (sophomores Tiffanie Currie and Kiana Davis-Hill, freshman Olivia Hudson, Kyleigh McLendon and Dajah Williams) join the squad this season.
“We have been working hard over the past few days in hopes of rebounding from a disappointing season last year,” head coach Elbert Branch said.
“Expectations are high this year and the players are looking forward to the start of the new season.”
The Knights return six varsity players and two starters from last year’s squad that went 6-16 overall and 3-13 in the conference for head coach Robert Stack (45-100 overall).
Senior Cat Harward, named All-SNAP last season, was second on the team in the scoring (8 ppg) and returns for Gray Stone, along with senior Alley Deese, who will be counted on for outside shooting.
More offense will also be needed from junior Jordan Redman, who moved up to varsity midway through last season and has the ability to hit the three-pointer and drive to the hoop.
A sophomore, Erin Ansbro, will take over the point guard spot for Gray Stone, while the Knights return three post players in seniors May Cadle and Kendall Taylor along with Junior Mica Giles.
After those players, though, the Knights get young very quickly as five freshman will be expected to step up and fill roles for the varsity.
Regarding the freshmen, Stack said, “I think they set a great tone for the future of the program.”
Kristina Everhart and Wesleigh Harrington both have strong skills in handling the basketball and could develop into impressive guards, while freshman Kate Sullivan “may be the best defensive player I have had,” according to Stack.
In the lane, Shelby Burris and Shannon Efird will bring good size and a physical presence.
“This team blends the now and the future. Our seniors have spent a lot of time on varsity and we will go as far as they take us. The chemistry on the team has been great so far and I feel we are practicing well. We want to compete every game; if we can do that, the wins will come,” Stack said.
Former West Stanly girls’ basketball head coach Larry Honeycutt will trade in the kelly green for South Stanly red this season, returning to South to coach a squad that went 9-16 last season and 4-12 in the YVC.
Honeycutt coached for 19 years at West Stanly, including seven as the JV boys’ coach and 12 very successful seasons as the head varsity girls’ coach. His girls’ teams went 205-110 in those 12 years, including three Rocky River Conference tournament victories.
He also coached at South Stanly for more than 30 years prior to his time at West Stanly, including sports like girls’ tennis, football, track and both girls’ and boys’ basketball while also teaching at South for 16 years.
This season, Honeycutt returns three starters from last season, including All-SNAP and All-YVC selection, sophomore Chelsey Culp. She led the Rebel Bulls last year in points with 10.2 points per game and was also third on the team in rebounding.
Guard Bailyn Allen and forward Clancy Russell are both starting returners. Allen is a junior that is a strong threat from the three-point arc, while Russell returns for her senior season in the post. She “will have to do a good job for us inside,” according to Honeycutt.
The new South coach also said that all three returning starters have impressed him with their defensive efforts. South also returns athletic perimeter player Courtney Smith.
One player that saw limited action last season and will be counted on greatly in particular this season is junior Gabby Benjamin.
Newcomers include freshman Ashlyn Whitley, sister of former South standout athlete Chelsey Whitley. The freshman is an strong outside shooter, according to Honeycutt.
Rachel Nance returns to the post for South this season after missing last season due to injury, while junior Shakerra Watkins will have to have good minutes in the post for the Bulls.
“You want to win the conference and play as well as you can,” Honeycutt said, adding that he felt this year’s team can be a great defensive team while the offense develops. We will get the most out of our personnel.”