Scott Garretson has taken over the Riverside girls basketball program for the second time, listing the opportunity for a head coaching job and a talented, young group of Warriors as his main motivating factors.
Whether or not that group can take the program to new heights remains to be seen. Yet the team has taken its first baby steps under Garretson during the three-week practice period which ends this week.
The Warriors, along with teams from around the state, are participating in the St. Albans High School Shootout, held on Tuesday and Wednesday. A total of 87 games will be played across the two days in five different locations around the city.
Carly Price, Riverside’s leading scorer from a year ago at 13.5 points per game, sprained her ankle in the team’s first practice of the three-week period and didn’t play on Tuesday.
Still, led by sophomore guards Haley Carroll and Jasmine Symns, both members of the All-Kanawha Valley rookie team a year ago, the Warriors overcame a 14-3 deficit to earn a 45-42 win over Roane County in one of its games on Tuesday.
All games at the tournament are played in two 20-minute halves with a running clock.
“They came out in that game a little lackadaisical,” Garretson said. “What impressed me is that they responded. I called a timeout and just said, ‘Hey, pick it up. Give me some energy.’ And they immediately responded, so that’s encouraging.”
Garretson spent the last three seasons as an assistant for the Charleston Catholic boys team with nine years prior with the Riverside girls — the first seven as an assistant, the last two as the head coach.
In many of those seasons, Riverside was led by post players. While Price figures to give Riverside a presence underneath, the potential of Carroll and Symns and other Riverside perimeter players gives Garretson options with his selected style of play.
“I think we have some athletes and we want to kind of get after people,” Garretson said. “You’ll see a lot of full-court presses. I didn’t really run any today because we haven’t installed them yet, but I definitely want to be a full-court, in-your-face kind of coach. That plays into their strengths.”
The Warriors managed a modest 10-13 campaign last year but only two of those victories came against Class AAA opponents (Hurricane and Woodrow Wilson).
Garretson knows to make real gains as a program, Riverside will have to be more competitive against big schools, and especially within the Mountain State Athletic Conference, where the team finished 1-11 a year ago.
“I think with maturity and age they’ll come along,” Garretson said. “My goal is to kind of close that gap in conference games, and with that young group, I think it can be done.”
SC hit hard by graduation
While one MSAC school looks to crash the party, another looks to keep partying, as South Charleston tries to recover after being hit hard by graduation.
Gone are two-time Kanawha Valley Player of the Year Aaliyah Dunham and last year’s Valley Defensive Player of the Year Rhea Smith. Haley Baker and Jayla Brown, two other starting guards, also graduated, as did role players Shyanne Dunham and Olivia Jeffries.
Rising junior guard Lavender Ward and junior post player Lashae Watts are the lone two returners with starting experience for the Black Eagles. The two will have to find a way to help the development process of a roster stocked with freshmen if SC is to continue building on a streak of four straight state tournament appearances.
“They’re going to have to be patient with these younger kids,” SC coach Gary Greene said. “I’ve told them, ‘You were fortunate enough to be playing with [Taliah Cashwell] and Aaliyah and Jayla Brown and they kind of took you under their wings and that’s what you guys need to be doing now is picking these kids up.’ These kids are winners. They’ve won in middle school, it’s just a matter of picking them up and giving them some confidence.”
The Black Eagles were beaten soundly 55-29 by North Marion on Tuesday, but not much attention is given to final results, with real importance being placed on learning and jelling.
“This is the best thing that happens to us is go play one of the best teams in the state,” Greene said. “We’re not world beaters, we’ve got work to do, but this is a learning thing and it’s why we’re doing it. We don’t expect to be flying midseason [form] right now.”
Danijah Allen transferred in from Capital for her junior season and should give SC a little more experience once the season begins. Greene also mentioned freshmen Maliha Whitten, Genevieve Potter and Kiki Terrell as key contributors.
Defense key for Summers
Speaking of being hit hard by graduation, Summers County knows a thing or two about that after losing two Class A first-team all-state players in twins Whittney and Brittney Justice.
Brittney Justice scored a team-best 22.5 points per game with Whittney Justice averaging 20.3. Add in fellow graduated seniors Morgan Miller (five points per game) and Kristin Berry (two points per game), and that’s right at 50 points of offense per game that the Bobcats will have to replace.
Back are rising seniors Hannah Taylor and Tiffani Cline to help lead the way. Taylor is coming off a season in which she averaged 15.8 points and was a third-team all state player.
But one way the Bobcats can make up for the exit of so much offense is to play better defense, something coach Sarah Blevins said is a main priority after her team knocked off Roane County 40-32 Tuesday.
“We have to work more as a defensive team,” Blevins said. “The last couple of years we’ve been strong offensively and as a result, have ended up slacking off on defense because of that. But right now, we graduated so many seniors that we have to generate offense and right now the only way we can do that is to get better defensively.
“We didn’t have the defensive skills when we needed it. We just have to work on defense primarily and buy into the fact that our offense will come from solid defensive possessions.”
The Bobcats fell just short of the Class A championship game a year ago, falling to eventual state champion St. Joseph in a semifinal.
Events like the St. Albans Shootout are even more important for teams like Summers County, with so much inexperience. Blevins said she’s learned a lot and has a lot more to learn about her team.
“I’ve learned that we as a team have a lot to learn right now because we are so young,” Blevins said. “We’re young but they want to learn and they want to get better and they want to improve.”