Published: Nov 30, 2011 02:12 AM
Modified: Nov 30, 2011 02:12 AM
Area girls basketball preview
Girls basketball will start strong
Girls' basketball teams in the area have only gotten stronger in recent years, and some players are among the state's top performers.This year should be much the same, as several big-time players return for another year of breakout performances.As for the conference races, private schools Cary Christian, Cary Academy and Grace Christian of Raleigh are poised near the top of their respective leagues. The Tri-Nine Conference should be as competitive as it's been since 2005, the last time its conference champ suffered a loss in league play.Team-by-team previews follow, with records indicating last year's win-loss record.Tri-Nine teamsGreen Hope (26-2): The Falcons enter the year having won their last 36 conference regular-season games (and 44 of the last conference games - 45 including the conference tournament) and quickly have turned into the Triangle's team to beat. They return two of the area's most feared players in junior Ashley Williams (9.3 points, 4.8 assists per game) and senior Kristen Gaffney (30 points, 8 rebounds), a Vanderbilt recruit.But Green Hope lost two three-year starters to graduation, and the team's third returning starter, junior Cassidey Sowards, is injured to start the year. The Falcons will start thin on depth but heavy on expectations. Holly Springs (19-10): The Golden Hawks lost three starters - including Clemson-bound Natiece Ford - but a solid group returns for new coach Richard Young. Sophomore Kiara Leslie (9.9 ppg) is the leading returning scorer along with senior Linnea Hoops (5.3).Middle Creek (18-9): It's a new starting five for coach Wes Petty. Jasmine Shaw was the team's third-leading scorer last year (8.9 ppg) off the bench.Cary (15-9): The Lady Imps bring back four starters - including two sophomores - from last year's team that won almost four times as many games than the previous season. Cary 6-foot-5 sophomore Azura Stevens (14 points, 18 rebounds per game), junior Whitney Coleman (15.6 ppg) and senior Alexia McLean (8 ppg) are three viable scoring options.Panther Creek (14-12): The Catamounts made the playoffs for the first time in school history last year and return a number of contributors from last year's group. One unexpected blow was dealt when Mercedes Harris - the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer - moved during the offseason.Senior guard Kayla Seymour (11.3 ppg), a UM-Baltimore County recruit, junior Allie Tuttle (7.8 ppg) and senior Jordan Webb (4.7 ppg) return for a balanced attack.Apex (10-13): Joseph Huffman is the first new face to coach the Cougars in nearly 30 years. He inherits a group that lost its top five scorers from a year ago.Athens Drive (10-14): Second-year coach Patrick Daly loses two starters, but returns two of his top scorers in senior Megan Gorman (10.6 ppg) and junior Brisha Gilbert (6.4 ppg).Fuquay-Varina (3-17): The Bengals are looking for improvement under second-year coach Monte Bullock. Camille Baker is the leading returning scorer.Lee County (0-23): The Yellow Jackets were winless last season, but optimism surrounds new coach Ike Godfrey - and new assistant coach Lewis Cummings.Private school teamsCary Christian (21-6): Last year's N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association semifinalists have a new coach this season in longtime Apex junior varsity coach Shelley Holmes. The Lady Knights return do-everything forward Dakota Dukes, a Davidson recruit with more than 2,000 points in her career. Dukes was among the Triangle leaders last year in points (23.1), rebounds (14.7) and steals (4.9).Grace Christian (20-5): The Eagles, coached by Tonya Taylor were Carolina Christian Conference champions last year. Grace returns seniors Anna Green (10.3 ppg) and Anna Sossaman (9.2)Cary Academy (19-10): The Chargers return everyone from last year's group, including junior Mickayla Sanders, who posted 21.9 points and 10 rebounds per game.