lauren harmison

With added height on George Washington’s roster, Lauren Harmison should be free to work more on the perimeter on offense for the Patriots.

For the first time in a long time, George Washington forward Lauren Harmison looks at home and feels at home in her position on the court.

Approaching her fourth year as a starter, the 5-foot-11 double-double machine is free to work the perimeter full time as an influx and development of several post players has added depth and versatility to the Patriots girls basketbal roster.

“We’re huge,” Harmison said. “I’m glad to finally play on the outside. I like having the bigs in there so we can feed them.”

For the better part of three years, Harmison has been the big for GW despite possessing a lethal jump shot with range well beyond the arc. That came out of necessity as the Patriots’ small, guard-oriented attack came with a general lack of size.

But although the Patriots lost just one starter from last year’s team — two-time Class AAA All-State first-team guard Katy Darnell — a lot has changed as GW gears up for a new season.

Neveah Harmon (5-11) played some center a year ago to free up Harmison somewhat and is back for her senior season. Mary Lyle Smith (5-10), a junior who didn’t play basketball as a freshman, emerged as a force underneath late in the year last season and couples athleticism (she’s also the starting goalkeeper for the girls soccer team) with a high motor.

Then, in the offseason, Aamyah Washington (5-11) transferred from St. Albans after averaging just over six points a game for the Red Dragons a year ago.

But GW is also long and rangy beyond that. Junior shooting guard Kalissa Lacy, who led the Mountain State Athletic Conference in points per game (18.6) a year ago, stands at 5-10 with combo players Kaya Thompson (5-9) and Emily McCloud (5-10) also providing depth and more height to swarm the rim.

“It’s just a difference that these kids have been around so long,” coach Jamie LaMaster said. “I’ve watched them go from 15-year-old girls and now they’re juniors and seniors in high school.

“I got them together in practice and thought, ‘Man, we’re a little bigger than we used to be.’ Even our guards are big.”

The only exception to that is junior point guard Vivian Ho, who’s listed at 5-6. But at practice on Thursday, Ho’s understanding and command of the GW offense was on display as she barked instructions at teammates in half-court sets.

“Her basketball IQ is through the roof now,” LaMaster said. “She can tell you any set we run where all five players are supposed to be. She coaches on the floor, a lot of times I don’t say anything and I want her to do that.”

Ho averaged 8.4 points a year ago and Harmison 8.8. The two will be the leading candidates to pick up the slack left by Darnell and her 16.7 points per game.

But with the emergence of Smith, the addition of Washington and the development of the rest of the team’s role players, GW will present a challenge that is balanced and capable from all five spots on the floor.

“I’m pleased with our chemistry,” LaMaster said. “The biggest thing is, these girls like each other. I’ve been down the road before — I’ve seen kids here before with All-State talent that honestly just didn’t like each other. As a result we didn’t have success. But from the minute our season ended last year [in a regional co-final] at Greenbrier East these kids have been on a mission.”

That mission — at least the first mission — is to get back to the state tournament. The Patriots fell one win short of that a year ago after making the eight-team field in 2018. And while the team has plenty of talent, albeit in a rugged Region 3 stacked with good teams, the team also packs plenty of big-game experience and cohesion, factors that could loom larger than the height of its collective parts.

“We like to laugh around the locker room, we like to laugh around in the locker room but once we hit the floor it’s serious time,” Harmison said. “In the postseason we went through a lot and I think it helped bring the motivation and fire up even more. We want to get out there and show everybody that this team is better and you’re not going to break our family apart.”

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazettemail.com or follow him on Twitter @RPritt.