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LaMaster: GW hoping 'to take that next step'

Kenny Kemp
GW's Rachel Ward is the team's top returning scorer at 12.8 points per game.
Kenny Kemp
Kelli Jo Harrison (with ball) is one of four starters returning for George Washington. She averaged 12.1 points per game last season.
George Washington coach Jamie LaMaster is getting a good vibe."They make me feel good whenever I watch them play and work out,'' he said of his players. "They're giving me a lot of faith. It doesn't feel like a new season to us. It doesn't really feel like we've quit. I feel like they picked up from last year.''The Patriots, who return four starters, advanced to the Class AAA state tournament semifinals the past two seasons and seem more than ready to take the next step. High school girls basketball teams may begin playing games today, but most in the Kanawha Valley open next week."They want to continue to keep it going,'' said LaMaster. "They want to get back. I think with the back-to-back state semis finishes, these kids know what it feels like to be a sectional champion and regional champion."Hopefully, this is the year. As far as punching through to the state title game, I think we can. It's a goal for us to take that next step. I think there's a lot that comes before that. They're ready to make a run at it.''GW finished with a 17-10 overall record last season and upset second-seeded South Charleston in the quarterfinals of the state tournament before falling to eventual state champion Greenbrier East.Patriots senior guard Rachel Ward, junior post player Kelli Jo Harrison, sophomore point guard Alanna Mobayed, senior guard Kayla Stewart and sophomore guard Hailey Stewart return to their starting positions. Ward averaged 12.8 points and Harrison tossed in 12.1. GW seniors Eva Roberts and Leslie Gilmore will add depth off the bench, as will sophomores Lilly Ash and Maria Romeo."We have the experience,'' LaMaster said. "We feel good about several positions, but we're looking for several other kids to fill spots and add some depth. I feel like overall, we're more athletic. We may be a little smaller, but we're a whole lot faster.''John Testa takes over at South Charleston, which graduated all five starters from last year's squad that finished 21-4. The Black Eagles were state runners-up the previous two seasons. "There's always talent at South Charleston,'' said Testa, a former women's assistant coach at the University of Charleston. "They practiced against those seniors last year, so I'm really expecting some good things. We're ready to go.''Seniors Alliyah Webb and Laci Jarrell will be looked upon for guidance, while sophomores Lina Villanueva and Aryaunna Mosley are the only two who logged significant minutes last season.Meredith Lauerman, a 6-2 senior who hasn't played the last two years, juniors Frankie Bland and Kirstie Travert and sophomore Alexia Wade, who was on last year's team, will fill starting spots.Paul Sutherland returns to the court for the first time since the 2007-08 season at Charleston Catholic, which went 13-11 and lost in last year's Class A quarterfinals. Sutherland compiled a 159-43 record in eight seasons at Winfield, guiding the Generals to two Class AA state titles.The Fighting Irish start the season in a hole with Catherine Bandak, a 6-foot center who was the team's second-leading scorer last year as a freshman, and incoming freshman Peri Bailey both out for the season with knee injuries. Sutherland will lean heavily on seniors Samantha Fletcher and Simone Assaley, who hasn't played since her freshman season, and juniors Anna Whelan and Hannah Gallian.
Freshman guard Madison Helmick, who set 3-point records in middle school, juniors Christina O'Dell, who hasn't hit the court since her junior year, sophomore Ali Persily and freshmen Raegan Palmer, Payton Mullen and Sophie Bumgarner will give the roster a boost. Athletic freshman Caroline Dundervill may join the team once a soccer injury heals.
Here's a quick glance at the rest of the teams in the Kanawha Valley, in alphabetical order, and their preparations for the upcoming season with last year's record in parentheses:
  • Buffalo (12-13): The Bison have plenty of talent to work with in returning starters Chelsey Parkins, a junior who earned a Class A third-team all-state selection after leading the team with 13.2 points, senior Tiffani Bailey, juniors Paige Roush and Katie Allen and sophomore Olivia Dunn. Senior Amber Cochran, sophomore Courtney Allen and freshman Michaela Lewis solidify the bench.
  • Capital (14-10): The Cougars turned in a winning record last year for the first time since the 2006-07 season and look to build on that with returning seniors Katie Crowder and Briana Harris and sophomore India Hairston. Senior shooting guard Khadijah Lee, who canned 36 3-pointers as a sophomore, and senior point guard Tatiyana Wood are also back.
  • Herbert Hoover (12-13): After senior guard Jordan Marshall, the other starters will come from a group including senior Makayla Shamblin, junior Makenzie Edmunds and Emily Brown, sophomores Bailey Aab, Emma Chapman, Bethany Romine, Zoey Carte and Caroline Thornburg and freshmen Hannah Schoolcraft and Kari Harding.
  • Hurricane (12-9): The Redskins have a new coach for the second time in as many years with Natasha Lowe at the helm. She will rely on returning players sophomore Abby Watson, who was second in scoring at 14.9 points, seniors Callie McClanahan and Brooke Crompton, junior Taniesha Sturdavent and sophomore Hannah Thompson along with five freshmen.
  • Nitro (3-20): Will Samuel takes over the Wildcats after guiding South Charleston Middle School to the Kanawha County championship game last season. Nitro returns sophomore Savannah Shamblin, the team's top scorer at 11.3 points, seniors Kelli Douglas, Melissa Belcher and Maddie Godby, junior Halie Miller and sophomore Hannah Linville.
  • Poca (0-3): The Dots are back after disbanding early last year because injuries left too few players available. First-year coach Kenny Sayre, a former Poca and Bluefield State standout, takes over with senior Paula Ord and Madi McGrew, juniors Harley Hutchins and Hannah Bailey and sophomore Mackensie Ball as the starting five.
  • Riverside (7-16): The Warriors won their most games since 1999 and begin anew under first-year coach Scott Garretson, who has been an assistant the last several years. He will build around Brittany Wood, who averaged 16 points, 14 rebounds and nine blocks as a freshman last season, junior guards Rachael Mills and Kara Knapp, junior posts Sheree Clayborn and LaMontica Burger. Senior Cassidy Farley will be the first substitute off the bench.
  • St. Albans (7-17): The Red Dragons will lean on athletic sisters Katelyn Propst, a junior guard, and Breanna Propst, a 5-10 sophomore who was the team's top scorer at 12.7 points last season. A young squad will also have freshman starting point guard Torri Wilson, sophomores Lexi Cooper and Addison Oliver and freshmen Cameron Davis and Katelyn Fields filling vital roles.
  • Sissonville (9-14): The Indians have no returning starters, but will have an influx of seven freshmen who went undefeated and won the Kanawha County middle school title last season. Seniors Ryan Henry and Lydia Murray and sophomores Taylor Rhodes and Ellie McClung are the only players with varsity experience and will be joined by junior Mariah Youngblood, a transfer from Poca and freshmen Madison Jones, Karli Pinkerton and Brooke Reed.
  • Winfield (10-14): The Generals begin their first season in the Class AAA Mountain State Athletic Conference with only seniors Haeley Moore, who was the second-leading scorer at 11.7 points, and Mara Rhodes with any starting experience. Juniors Makenzie Arthur, Micharae Thompson, Chelsea Kirby, Morgan Eggleton and sophomore Haley Roberson will see significant playing time.
  • Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at or 304-348-4811. 
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