In terms of individual star power, the George Washington girls basketball team has certainly had plenty in recent years.
Katy Darnell earned back-to-back first-team Class AAA All-State selections as a junior and senior in 2018 and 2019. Kalissa Lacy was a three-time first-team All-State pick (2019, 2020 and 2021), adding the 2020 Mary Ostrowski Award and back-to-back first-team captain honors to her resume.
Though Lacy graduated and is on her way to Eastern Kentucky University, GW already has a possible heir apparent in rising sophomore Finley Lohan, the Gazette-Mail’s Kanawha Valley Rookie of the Year this past season.
Lohan, a 5-foot-11 combo guard/forward, certainly flashed all the tools to be that kind of player as a freshman last season. She averaged 10 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists last season and often served as the team’s primary ball handler, especially against pressure defenses.
“She’s right on line to be at that level,” GW coach Jamie LaMaster said during the Lady Wildcats Summer Shootout at Nitro High School at the beginning of the three-week period.
Lohan was in attendance but, along with sophomore teammate Macie Mallory, did not play due to travel ball obligations. The two are part of a West Virginia Thunder team that is in the middle of its busiest time of year.
However, both were on the bench, giving encouragement and instructions to a GW team that competed with six incoming freshmen and two returning sophomores. For a Patriots team that lost three senior starters — Lacy, point guard Vivian Ho and forward Mary Lyle Smith — the show of leadership was as important as anything Lohan or Mallory could have possibly showed on the floor during the event.
“That freshman class last year was so strong and played a tremendous amount, and all year long I didn’t think they played like freshmen, I didn’t think they looked like freshmen, I didn’t think they acted like freshmen,” LaMaster said. “They’re in here today in a supporting role. These kids are over on the bench with us talking to these younger kids and taking a leadership role. I’m really, really pleased with that.”
That leadership may be needed even more as the Patriots are without a senior on the roster. Kierstyn Fore and Kensy Thomas were the team’s lone sophomores a year ago, meaning the Patriots could enter the season with just two juniors and a horde of freshmen and sophomores.
Fore figures to give GW another potent shooter along the perimeter. Sophomore Alaira Evans, the third member of the productive freshman trio a year ago, was dealing with an injury and missed the Shootout, though she’s expected to be back in plenty of time for the season.
Those four players should create a solid nucleus around which LaMaster can build. But while the Patriots have hung plenty of All-State and state player of the year banners in recent seasons, they’re still searching for the first state championship under LaMaster, who is entering his 16th season at the helm.
GW has certainly been close, and that includes last season, when the Patriots advanced to the state semifinals before bowing out to Cabell Midland. It marked the third semifinal appearance for the program under LaMaster.
While the core of the current roster is certainly a promising place to start in that pursuit, GW’s success in the upcoming season will lean heavily on depth, which the Patriots began building during the three-week period, and there were certainly a few standouts. Primarily, incoming ninth graders Nasiya Smith and Candra Frazier turned some heads at the Shootout and could push themselves into consistent minutes once the winter rolls around.
But without Lohan, Mallory and Evans around at the Shootout, all of GW’s youngsters found themselves in a trial by fire. That was especially true in a matchup with defending Class AAAA champion Huntington, which was largely intact outside of point guard Dionna Gray, who is also a member of the Thunder team on which Mallory and Lohan play.
But final results were an afterthought throughout the day and, for the most part, LaMaster was happy with the way his incoming crop of players handled themselves against some of the state’s best competition.
“Right now, I’m a senior-less basketball team, but today is more about seeing what these kids can do, what they’re capable of, and I’ve been very, very pleased to this point,” LaMaster said. “We had one practice and I told them we’d come out today and it was about having a competitive attitude and playing hard — no pressure, let’s just see what we can do and what we can’t do. It’s good from that standpoint. We know what the returners have, but it’s always good to see the young kids come in and compete and play.”