Young Lady Warriors growingPublished 9:55pm Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Nansemond River High School’s girls’ basketball team displayed notable positives and negatives in their third game of the season on Monday night against visiting Smithfield High School.
Excellent three-point shooting by the Lady Warriors helped force overtime, but their poor execution thereafter resulted in a 61-55 home loss.
NR head coach Calvin Mason pointed out some startling statistics his growing team produced, as well as the Lady Packers.
“We actually shot better from the three-point line than we did from the field,” Mason said.
Sophomore off-guard Aneka Yelverton led the Lady Warriors with 20 points, shooting 6-for-10 from behind the arc, while junior guard Laura Ortiz shot 3-for-6 from that range and ended up with 13 points for the game.
In contrast, Nansemond River rarely got to the free throw line and shot poorly when there, going 1-for-8. Smithfield, however, got there quite frequently, shooting 25-for-34.
“I could hardly believe it, but that’s basketball,” Mason said.
The coach enters his eighth year as head of the varsity girls’ program, coming off of the first losing season in that time. The Lady Warriors, currently 1-2, went 4-18 last year.
That team was very young, but still had two key seniors that graduated this past June: point guard Ashante Humphries and forward Sonnae Gibson. Also absent from the roster this year is senior Khaila Pitts, who transferred to Western Branch High School, and junior Kayla Brown, who transferred to Churchland High School.
Nansemond River’s roster includes four juniors, two sophomores and six freshmen.
Mason said his first expectation for this year’s squad is that it improves. He sees the potential for that.
“We have better chemistry, and I think we have a little bit more talent,” he said. “We’re just young.”
While this group is even younger than last year, Mason does not want youth to be the excuse again this season.
Yelverton has circumvented that excuse by playing beyond her years in the three games thus far. She has scored 20 points twice, and in the other game, she put up a team-high 16 points.
“She worked really hard in the off-season to get better,” Mason said. “She only averaged about five points a game last year, so she’s made a major jump.”
Mason said Ortiz averaged nine to 10 points last year and will bring something unique to this year’s squad.
“This is her third year,” he said. “She’s the most experienced player on the team.”
He tried starting her at the point in the off-season, but said, “She’s just better at the two.”
Down low, the Lady Warriors will look to sophomore 6-foot center Sabree Clegg, who started last year and averaged four points and four rebounds.
“We’re hoping that she can come around and double those totals, at least,” Mason said. “She’s very capable.”
Showing promise at the point guard position is freshman Cassidy Simmons. She has done a great job considering her lack of experience in the role, Mason said.
She is coach-able, her on-court decision-making has improved, and Mason said she is “probably the best guard defender on the team.”
Freshman power forward Najla Bibb did not play on Monday because she had been out of town and had not participated in Mason’s required number of practices to play. Once she meets this mark, Mason expects her to make an impact and add some depth to the team.
“She’s probably going to be our best rebounder,” Mason said.
The coach considered what his team will have to overcome to be successful this year.
“Our biggest challenge is not going to come from outside, it’s going to come from within,” Mason said.
Inexperience and the need to find a true leader on the roster are two significant internal issues.
Mason acknowledged the Virginia High School League’s realignment as producing a set-up that is different, but said, “I don’t look at it as an advantage one way or another.”
“There are good teams at all levels,” he said.
The Lady Warriors are currently in the middle of what Mason called “grind week,” with games on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. They hosted Indian River High School on Tuesday night, will host Hickory High School on Thursday and then will visit Lakeland High School on Friday.