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Nitro's Ava Edwards

Nitro freshman guard Ava Edwards scored 10 points against Winfield on Monday at Alumni Arena. She leads the Wildcats in scoring this season with 10.8 points per game.

Defending Class AAA girls basketball state champion Nitro is off to another good start.

The Wildcats are 5-1 after a 58-35 win over Winfield on Monday night in which they showed skill on both sides of the ball.

Despite losing two key contributors from last season in Baylee Goins and Brooklyn Bowen, Nitro has plenty of experience back with seniors Lena Elkins, Emily Lancaster, Paige Ward and Danielle Ward, along with junior Taylor Maddox.

However, a new face is making a big splash in the Wildcat starting five.

Freshman Ava Edwards has started all six games this season for the Wildcats, and her numbers are solid.

She leads the team with a team-high 10.8 points per game. Edwards and Maddox are tied for the team lead in assists (22) and Edwards has the second-most steals on the team with 16. She also has 19 rebounds.

Edwards played her middle school ball at Hurricane Middle School and played AAU with the Ohio Valley Lady Dragons before coming to play at Nitro. After six games at the varsity level, Nitro coach Pat Jones trusts her with the ball.

“She’s a freshman,” Jones said. “I’ve told her hundreds of times she’s gonna make freshman mistakes. But the way she leads the team right now, I couldn’t ask for anything else. After losing someone of the stature of Baylee Goins, to have her come in as a freshman and play the lead role, control the offense, you couldn’t ask for anything else.”

Edwards says one of the keys to her success is practice and getting in the gym as much as possible. She trains with Adam Zimmerman of Zone Out Sports three or four days per week in the offseason.

“One of the main things is I’ll be getting in the gym every day, with practice and then after practice, staying after and shooting,” she said.

In Nitro’s win Monday, Edwards scored 10 points and didn’t look like a freshman. She said she is comfortable now that she’s settled in.

“At first it was kind of overwhelming,” Edwards said. “Most of my teammates and who I play against are seniors and juniors. After I got used to it, it’s kind of the same as what middle school was, just harder competition.”

Edwards has plenty of mentorship from upperclassmen on the team, and she said they’ve been helpful as she learns how to play at the varsity level.

“I really can take constructive criticism well,” Edwards said. “I try to ask my teammates if there’s anything I can improve on to help the team on offense and defense-wise and all together work as a team.”

Edwards said one thing she does well is driving the ball to the basket and getting others open shots, but she admits that she needs to improve on outside shots.

“She sees the court well,” Jones said. “She passes the ball real well. She dribbles with her head down a little bit but we’re getting that under control. For a freshman to control an offense full of seniors, it’s hard to ask a freshman that.

“There’s not many freshmen in the Cardinal Conference, I don’t know about the state, that are basically running a whole team of almost seniors and doing a hell of a job at it.”

Rick Farlow covers sports. He can be reached at 304-348-5122 or Follow @FarlowRick on Twitter.