Many deserving candidates for Players of the Year

Published 9:23 pm Saturday, March 22, 2014

Reporter’s Notebook: By Titus Mohler

Suffolk fielded many talented athletes during this past winter sports season. This means that the Duke Automotive-Suffolk News-Herald Winter Players of the Year stood out from among a list of candidates deserving honorable mention.

On that list was Nansemond River High School sophomore Brandeé Johnson, who lit up the sport of indoor track and field. She added two more state championships to the one she earned as a freshman, when she was a member of the 4×200-meter relay team.

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This time around, she won the honor individually in the 300-meter dash with a personal record of 39.06 seconds. Nansemond River coach Justin Byron said that time was ranked ninth in the nation, first in the nation on a flat track and seventh all-time in Virginia, according to Milestat.com.

Johnson also helped the 4×400-meter relay team win the state championship this year with a time of 4:02.66, despite the event coming at the end of a busy and tiring day of competition.

When she was not winning state titles that weekend, she was still in the hunt, placing second in the triple jump and third in the 500-meter dash.

Earlier in the year, she won the 300-meter dash and the triple jump at the Ironclad Conference indoor championships. She also won the 300-meter dash during a regular season conference meet.

Male candidates for Winter Player of the Year included Nansemond River senior basketball player Devon Oakley. During the course of 23 games this season, he helped lead his team to a 19-4 record by averaging 18.2 points, 5.4 rebounds 3.6 assists, three steals and one block per game.

He shot 46 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point range and 60 percent at the foul line, with that last statistic improving through the end of the ear. He was one of his team’s top two scorers in most games and missed double figures only once. He scored more than 20 points nine times and put up a career-high 30 points in a game against Lakeland High School.

Oakley was named to the all-conference first team, and despite not playing at the regional level, he was the only unanimous first team all-region selection, a recognition of his proficiency and consistency over 23 games.

Another candidate was Lakeland senior basketball player Marché Everette. Down the stretch of the regular season and throughout the conference tournament, he spearheaded a team effort that completely upended the Suffolk basketball world.

He received no all-conference or all-region honors, possibly because he was quieter earlier in year, but following are examples of how he came on strong late in the season:

  • Feb. 1 — In a 55-53 regular-season win over NRHS, he had eight points, nine rebounds and four assists.
  • Feb. 13 — In a 55-47 regular-season win over King’s Fork High School, he had 16 points and eight boards.
  • Feb. 17 — In a 65-57 conference tourney quarterfinal win over Denbigh High School, he had 20 points and five boards. This was Lakeland’s first win against Denbigh this season.
  • Feb. 19 — In a 66-59 conference tourney semifinal win over NRHS, he had 17 points and 12 rebounds. This victory clinched a regional berth for Lakeland.
  • Feb. 21 — In a 42-40 conference tourney final win over KFHS, he had 14 points and eight rebounds, including key fourth quarter baskets.
  • Feb. 25 — In a 66-56 first-round regional loss to Booker T. Washington High School, he still had 16 points and 15 rebounds.

He was dangerous from anywhere on the court, displaying great range with three-pointers, mid-range jumpers, free throws and inside baskets.

The final candidate was Nansemond River junior wrestler Leon Lynch. He used his superior stamina to win the Group 4A South regional championship in the 160-pound weight class. Trailing 2-1 after the second round, he executed a come-from-behind 4-2 victory in the third.

Points earned from his wins at the regional tournament contributed significantly to his school’s first team regional championship win, besting schools that benefit from longstanding youth development programs.

A week later, despite battling the flu all weekend, he managed to place fifth at the state championships. He ended the year with a 31-7 record.