Maliha Witten

South Charleston’s Maliha Witten is entering her third year as a starter for the Black Eagles.

Two seasons ago, four freshmen found themselves in the starting lineup for a rebuilding South Charleston girls basketball squad.

Last year, just two of them — Maliha Witten and Genevieve Potter — were on the court as the Black Eagles rebounded from a losing season with a run to the Class AAA state semifinals.

For Kiki Terrell and Mia Terry, knee injuries before the season even started ended their sophomore campaigns, forcing them to watch from the sidelines as SC re-established itself as a player among the state’s big schools.

But lack of depth has been a thorn in SC’s side for the past two years, and last year the aforementioned injuries were a big part of that. But with Terrell and Terry back in the fold, and even with the departures of seniors Lavender Ward and Lashae Watts, the Black Eagles could field one of their deepest squads in quite a while as their season gets underway on Tuesday with a home contest against Russell, Kentucky.

“I think the last couple of years for some of these kids has really helped them mature as ball players,” SC coach Gary Greene said. “We’ve got three freshmen that are pushing everybody. We do have more depth this year, we’ve just got to get the experience level up.”

A midseason injury to Ward last year thrust Daviya Leggett into the lineup and she, fellow sophomore Dasheya Booker and junior Maggie Britt all logged significant minutes off the bench. Greene tabbed Mya Toombs, Kiara Brown and Sidney Harris as rookies who could be ready to make an immediate impact as well.

While SC may be long on depth, especially by midseason when the youngsters have garnered their share of game minutes, it isn’t necessarily long on experience. Myra Cuffee, a first-team All-Kanawha Valley selection and second-team All-State member a year ago, is the team’s only senior, but is only in her second year with the team after transferring in from Teays Valley Christian before last season.

Witten and Potter are each entering their third season as starters with Witten earning an honorable mention spot on the All-State team a year ago. In addition to an increase in production, those two may be looked to for leadership as well.

“We’re trying to get back to where we were last year, we’re working pretty hard,” Witten said. “I’ve got to be a leader now. We’ve got to work very hard to get to states as we did last year.”

Within the depth comes versatility as well. When Ward was out a year ago, Witten slid over to take over point guard responsibilities, giving her familiarity and a sense of comfort in the role should Terrell need to be spelled. Watts, the team’s true post threat, will be missed but Terry figures to fill that hole and offers size and athleticism.

With Witten, Terry, Cuffee, Potter and Leggett all on the floor, SC can go big at times, crowding the floor with length, height and athleticism. But the team also has the ability to play small, giving Greene options depending on the opponent.

“I would trust Daviya or Maggie to go in at any time,” Greene said. “Those young kids are going to have to get in the fire real soon, and once that happens I think we’ll have the best depth we’ve had in a while.

“Two years ago we were playing five guards so the guards know the forward spots. We can go big or we can go with a three- or four-guard set. We’ve just got to get some experience and get the kids that were out last year back to game situations. Give us a few games and I think we’ll be able to play with almost anybody.”

Cuffee led the team averaging 14 points a year ago. Witten averaged 10.2 points after scoring at a 14.4 clip as a ninth grader.

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