On most nights, even against the state’s best competition, George Washington junior guard Kalissa Lacy found ways to score in bunches.
Where, in the past, she was limited largely to her deadly outside jump shot, Lacy’s work in the offseason afforded her other options as she became more comfortable attacking the rim and scoring in transition.
For that improvement, her season-long consistency and for doing it all against a rugged schedule, Lacy was named the Charleston Gazette-Mail Kanawha Valley Player of the Year.
“It’s something I’ve wanted for a while,” Lacy said. “It’s cool to see that I’m up here with all these great players [previous winners of the award].”
Lacy just held off a frantic, late charge from Nitro junior Baylee Goins to win the award. Goins averaged 42.7 points per game in the Wildcats’ last three postseason wins as she helped carry the team into this week’s state tournament.
It’s not the first time the two have battled neck and neck for an award. Goins just held off Lacy two years ago for Kanawha Valley Rookie of the Year honors. This year, that honor was bestowed upon Hurricane point guard Maggie Odour.
Nitro coach Pat Jones took home the Valley’s Coach of the Year award as the Wildcats won nine of their last 11 games including a sectional semifinal and regional co-final on the road to make the state tournament field for the first time since 2007. South Charleston junior guard Maliha Witten rounded out the award winners, taking home the Defensive Player of the Year award.
For Jones and the Wildcats, it wasn’t always easy, but after a narrow 63-59 loss at Wayne on Jan. 27, Nitro began improving and is playing its best ball at the right time. The team’s overtime win at Lincoln County in a Region 4 co-final was the 50th in Jones’ three years at the helm.
“These girls have really shown a lot of growth and maturity over the past couple of weeks,” Jones said. “These girls, they’re fun. They’ve bought in and even the community is buying in and that’s what we’ve wanted from the beginning.”
Goins gathered her third All-Kanawha Valley first-team spot in three years this season with Lacy making her second appearance. Goins’ late surge gave her the Valley scoring title after Lacy had led throughout the season. The Nitro star will enter the state tournament averaging 26 points per game with Lacy finishing her season at 24.6 points per game.
The two have been teammates with the West Virginia Thunder AAU program for years and, after pushing each other for three seasons, have likely set themselves up for an epic finale next year.
“She’s able to take control of a game and score the ball really well,” Lacy said. “I’m kind of the same, but I’m maybe more team oriented, because I have better helpers. I know how to get my team going.”
Lacy helped keep the Patriots buoyed in the Class AAA top five for most of the season, leading the Mountain State Athletic Conference in scoring by a margin that approached 10 points per game in the middle of the year. Over the course of the season, the Patriots played seven games against the top three seeds in the state tournament (Parkersburg, Woodrow Wilson and Greenbrier East) and another against Wheeling Park, which was ranked No. 1 before being upset in a regional co-final by Morgantown. Those eight contests account for 32 percent of the Patriots’ schedule.
Also sprinkled in was a road game at No. 6 Cabell Midland, a home date against No. 10 Huntington, two games against No. 7 South Charleston and neutral-court showdowns with Class AA No. 2 Winfield and Class A No. 4 Summers County.
Through that gauntlet and the rest of the Patriots’ schedule, Lacy was routinely met with double teams, box-and-ones and other defenses engineered specifically to contain her.
“It was definitely a lot, but I had my team to back me up and I could get it to the open person and they could score,” Lacy said. “Last year I was seen as just a shooter and this year I could get to the basket, drive, kick to the open person – I was more of a threat offensively.”
“It’s a great honor and well deserved,” LaMaster said. “I think she’s improved her game totally in getting to the rim, in transition and in her mid-range game.
“Along with the physical growth, she’s done a nice job in involving teammates. She draws a lot of attention and that’s a tough decision sometimes. If she continues to do that, she’ll get better and better.”
The Patriots’ season came to an end in the rugged Class AAA Region 3 co-finals with a loss at No. 4 Woodrow. GW had defeated the Flying Eagles twice in the regular season, but lost 64-55 in Beckley.
Joining Lacy and Goins (who also averaged 7.6 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 3.6 steals per game) on the first team was South Charleston senior guard Myra Cuffee who, like Lacy, grabbed her second first-team nod. Cuffee finished second in the MSAC scoring race, finishing at 17.3 points per game and helped led the Black Eagles to a 17-8 campaign with a pair of wins over GW, one over Woodrow and one over Winfield.
Herbert Hoover senior guard Allison Dunbar finished third in the Kanawha Valley in scoring, averaging 22.5 points to go with 8.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game in securing her first All-Kanawha Valley first-team spot. Dunbar led the Huskies to a historic season as Hoover finished with 16 wins, believed to be the most in the program since 1988. Dunbar will continue her career at Concord next year.
Rounding out the first-team squad was Winfield senior forward Lauren Hudson. The Generals will enter state tournament play at 23-2 and were far and away this season’s most consistent team in the Valley. Hudson averaged 15.2 points per game in a balanced lineup that will carry four players with double-figure averages into the state tournament. But Hudson’s consistency gave her the nod as she reached double figures in scoring in 24 of the Generals’ 25 games this year. She also leads the team in rebounding (7.2 per game), blocked shots (1.9 per game) and field goal percentage (55 percent) among the team’s regular rotation of players.