With its top three scorers back from last year’s Conference 24 championship team and an influx of young talent, Carroll County’s girls’ basketball team hopes to build off its impressive playoff run from a year ago.
Led by Mattie Kennedy, Keely Lundy and Mariah Carter, each an All-Conference 24 selection a year ago, the Cavaliers went 23-5 en route to winning the conference title and finishing as runner-up in Region 4A West to earn a berth in the 4A State Tournament. Still, the Cavs will have to replace five solid seniors, including Haley Turman, who is now playing basketball for Bluefield College. Even though this year’s team will be as deep and versatile as arguably any team head coach Marc Motley has had, replacing those five seniors won’t be easy.
“We’ve got most of our offense coming back, which is a great thing,” he said. “But we are replacing those veterans kids and their 17 years of varsity experience and that will definitely be different this year. The young kids we have coming in are very talented, but they are five sophomores and one freshman.”
Of course, everything will start with Kennedy and Lundy, a pair of incredibly talented seniors who both will enter their fourth season starting at the varsity level. Kennedy led Carroll in scoring with 13.6 points per game to go along with 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game last year. Lundy, who recently signed with Concord University, averaged 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game a year ago as both also earned All-Region honors. Carter is also back for her junior season after scoring 9.4 points per contest a year ago.
“We will (lean on them heavily). I have all the confidence in the world in those three kids to put the ball in the basket. You know they are going to rebound, play defense and all those little things that are so important,” Motley said. “I think our young kids are going to make us more dynamic on the offensive end than last year. With that said, the defense will still have quite a bit of growing to do.”
Also back from last year’s Conference 24 title game is senior center Jade Holt and sophomore guard Madisyn Dalton. Dalton was extremely impressive as a freshman last year, seeing her playing time continue to increase throughout the year to the point where she was a vital part of the team by the time the playoffs rolled around.
“Dalton is a kid that grew every day and worked hard every day and made herself better in practice. She’s very athletic,” Motley said. “It’s tough for a freshman to come in and play with five seniors and four juniors that have been there forever. She had to find her way and she did, and she is going to be on the floor for me all the time this year. We will depend on her tremendously.”
Holt will be asked to fill the shoes of Turman, an incredibly tough post player and excellent defender who is now playing basketball at Bluefield College. A three-year varsity player, Holt is expected to fill that role and provide more of an offensive spark at the position.
“She’s played a lot of basketball for us and I expect big things out her this year,” Motley said. “I expect her to score in the post, which is something we have lacked for several years. We’ve had really solid post players, but not kids in the post who just score. We feel like we can throw it to her in different situations whether her back is to the basket or from 16 and 17 feet and she can still knock down shots.”
With Turman and Reece both lost to graduation, Motley said he initially thought Carroll might be small in the post this year. But with Holt back and talented freshman Abby Kennedy coming in, that doesn’t appear to be the case now.
“I was worried about having enough depth in the post in case of foul trouble. Now, I’m not sure we might not have more depth in the post than in past,” Motley said. “Abby Kennedy brings a different type of game. She is 6 foot tall, but she steps out and shoots the three. She can make plays in the frontcourt or backcourt. She will bring a different type of player to the post. She’s not a 10-foot-and-in post player. She plays as well at 20 feet as at two feet.”
Kennedy’s versatility, combined with a diverse sophomore class, will help the Cavs in a variety of ways. Motley said he’s been toying with some lineups featuring five guards. Not only will that give the Cavs the ability to start a variety of different lineups depending on matchups, it will also take some pressure off the team’s main scorers.
“I really feel like we are deep enough this year that we can play a lot of guards at one time and what I am hoping that will do is not make Maddie (Kennedy) and Keely to have to work so hard on the defensive end. Our juniors and sophomores are pretty athletic too, as is Abby,” Motley said. “We started three different lineups in the four scrimmages we’ve had going back to the summer.”
Another Cavalier who will play into those plans is junior Danielle Gallimore, who can man either guard position. Motley said she works extremely hard, shoots the ball really well and makes good decisions passing the basketball. With Mattie Kennedy out during the summer with an injury, Motley said Gallimore stepped in and played very well at point guard.
“And she gets after it unbelievably on defense. We have her and two or three other guards that didn’t play a lot of minutes last year that will come in and make a huge difference,” Motley said. “I think in the past our team had a lot of kids that played one side of ball or other. This year I feel like we have multiple players that play well on both sides of the ball. We are more athletic, but we can also play defense and score with those same kids.”
Another senior back from last year is Megan Garland. A physical presence in the post, Garland can shoot from 15 feet in. Motley said she’s also an excellent rebounder and solid defender.
“I see her giving me some minutes off the bench in the post. She’s undersized height-wise, but not in determination and strength,” Motley said. “She started quite a bit for me this summer because of her toughness.”
Joining Dalton among this year’s talented sophomore class is Kenda Robinson, a tall, athletic guard that Motley calls “pretty dynamic on the offensive end.”
“She has long arms and runs well. She’s a solid on-ball defender,” Motley said. “She’s 5-9 or 5-10 and another guard who can play post if you need her to. I have five guards with size, and I like the way that works out.”
Another talented sophomore for Carroll will be Caroline Giles. Motley said Giles will mainly play the power forward position and some post.
“She can step out a little and shoot it. She’s a really, really smart player,” Motley said. “She understands the game really, well, just a cerebral player. She does a good job and always gets herself in the right spot.”
Another sophomore, Laken Alley, has been a big surprise according to Motley. A tireless worker, Alley seems to work harder each and every day.
“She will probably play a bit of a backup point guard role if Mattie is not in the game. It could be her or Danielle at the point or the other playing some two guard,” Motley said. “She’s a good passer and a good outside shooter. She’s a solid ball-handler and does everything well. These sophomores push my older kids and make theem work every day,”
Also moving up to the varsity team this year will be Amy Jo Caviness, who Motley said was probably the leading scorer on the JV team last season.
“She’s a really, really good scorer and a pretty smart player herself. She probably doesn’t get the credit defensively she deserves,” Motley said. “She’s a little unorthodox in how she scores sometimes, which makes her tough to guard.”
With so many options and such a talented and diverse lineup, Motley has high hopes for the Cavaliers in 2016-2017 as long as Carroll buys in to the concept and plays together as a team.
“I feel good about the lineup we have as long as the kids can be happy understanding the situation,” Motley said. “Right now they are playing hard and accepting it. Time will tell how people accept their roles and how they relish in those roles.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN