The Gazette-Mail’s All-Kanawha Valley girls basketball team has the feel of a “Friends’’ reunion.
That’s because the individuals sharing the Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors are, indeed, good friends on and off the court.
George Washington senior guard Kalissa Lacy and Nitro senior guard Baylee Goins, regarded as two of the best players in West Virginia, are set to participate in this week’s state tournament at the Charleston Coliseum, guided by their respective coaches — Jamie LaMaster (GW) and Pat Jones (Nitro), albeit in different divisions. Today, the good buddies all share in the Gazette-Mail’s top honors for players and coaches on our annual All-Kanawha Valley teams.
The remainder of the five-player first team features Sydney Bolles (Charleston Catholic), Talayah Boxley (Capital) and Maliha Witten (South Charleston). Witten is also the Defensive Player of the Year and GW freshman Finley Lohan was selected as the Rookie of the Year.
The similarities abound for Lacy and Goins, who are longtime teammates on the West Virginia Thunder AAU travel team in the offseason. Both carry sizable scoring averages but are widely recognized for making their teammates better by their all-around contributions.
The 5-foot-10 Lacy averages 22.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.4 steals for the Patriots (13-3), who have earned the No. 3 seed for the Class AAAA state tournament and face No. 6 Woodrow Wilson at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals. Lacy also shoots 40.7% from 3-point range.
Goins, at 5-8, averages 20.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 3.3 steals for the Wildcats (15-1), the No. 3 seed in Class AAA, with a 9:30 a.m. Wednesday date against No. 6 Midland Trail in the opening round. Goins shoots 78% at the foul line and holds a more than 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio (126-53).
LaMaster marvels at how far Lacy has come in her four years at GW, all the while making major contributions in soccer, swimming and softball and carrying a better than 4.0 grade-point average. She has already signed with the basketball program at Morehead State.
“I always think back to the first [media] interview I ever had on Kalissa,’’ LaMaster said. “I said, ‘Well, I know she was a great middle school player at John Adams and a great shooter, but I’m anxious to see how she competes at the high school level.’ I got the answer pretty quick, since she was second-team All-State as a freshman.’’
Lacy earned All-State first-team honors the next two years and is a shoo-in for the same this season. As a junior, she was also selected as the state’s Player of the Year, averaging 24.6 points.
“She’s done so many things,’’ LaMaster said. “The first-ever [state] Player of the Year at GW, the [Mountain State Athletic] Conference Player of the Year, big sectional games, regional games, Big Atlantic Classic games, MSAC championship games. Just so much being a part of that. A lot of memories there.
“And she’s started every game except a couple due to a concussion. She’s represented GW basketball, the school, herself and her family in such a class way. You couldn’t ask for a better kid in the classroom and she’s a multi-sport athlete. It’s been a real eye-opening experience. I like to think there’s been some really high-level kids around this Valley, and I’ve been blessed to coach one for four years.’’
Jones also took some time to reflect on Goins’ legacy and what she means to the rich tradition of girls basketball at Nitro. Prior to Goins’ junior season, the Wildcats hadn’t qualified for the state tournament since 2007; now, it’s been done for a second straight year and Goins appears a cinch to be selected first-team All-State for a third time.
“She’s put Nitro back on the map since the Megan Withrow days and the Savannah Shamblin days,’’ Jones said, recalling two past Wildcats’ All-Staters. “Now it’s the Baylee Goins days, and it’s grown. I hope in the future, after she graduates, it grows even more. Every special kid who comes through helps build the program.
“It’s been a pleasure coaching her. She’s grown every year. You couldn’t ask for anything more from a kid — an outstanding player and a hard worker. In the summer, she’s always in the gym getting shots up or playing with the Thunder.’’
Jones noted that Goins sets goals for herself every year, and the degree of difficulty keeps rising.
“Her goal as a freshman was to make the state tournament,’’ Jones said, “but didn’t do that, and her sophomore year, she wanted player of the year but didn’t get it, and her junior year she wanted a state championship and player of the year. Last year, we made the state tournament, so she’s getting closer every year.
“But it’s not so much the individual accomplishments that she cares about. It’s not about her. She wants a state championship. She’s won about every award possible, and she wants a team award. She wants to leave as the only player to win a state championship.
“We have three players averaging double figures [in scoring] and that’s because of her game — Baylee’s penetrating and kicking it out. It’s not, ‘Let me penetrate and score,’ it’s getting other players opportunities. Her assists per game have gone up, her rebounds have gone up.’’
In addition to Lacy and Goins sharing their first trip to the state tournament in the same season, Jones and LaMaster are sure to keep tabs on what each other is doing this week. They’re so close that when LaMaster was selected to coach the South squad in the 2019 North-South girls game, he called Jones to serve as his assistant coach. They stay in touch nearly every day.
“Every night after a game, we send texts to each other,’’ Jones said. “Last year, we had 22 games and we called it a 22-chapter book. After each game, we’d send a text and say, ‘Chapter 2 complete,’ or ‘Chapter 3 complete.’ We talk basketball, talk about problems you’re having and it’s nice to have friends to bounce things off of.’’
Here are capsule looks at the other All-Valley first-team honorees:
Bolles: A 5-9 senior with great spring, she leads the Irish in scoring (17.0), rebounding (8.3) and blocked shots (5.3). Her defensive work helped Charleston Catholic (9-4) get back to the state tournament for the first time since 2018. The Irish allow only 38.9 points per game and have held five teams to 28 or fewer points.
Boxley: A 5-10 junior, she averaged 11.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and shot 53% from the floor for the Cougars (9-9), who just missed a state tournament berth and their first winning season since 2011-12. In a sectional semifinal win against SC, the program’s first postseason victory since 2016, she turned in a 13-point, 17-rebound effort.
Witten: a 5-9 senior, she’s now the two-time winner of the Kanawha Valley’s defensive player of the year award. She averaged 13.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.1 steals for the Black Eagles, shooting 49% on field goals and 87% at the foul line. Witten also carried a sharp assist to turnover ratio of 50-13.
Lohan, a member of a strong freshman class at GW along with Macie Mallory and Alaira Evans, averages 10.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists.