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sc ahmed witten

South Charleston assistant girls basketball coach Ahmed Witten speaks at the MSAC’s media day at Little Creek Park in South Charleston Friday. Witten was filling for SC head coach Gary Greene.

Most of the Mountain State Athletic Conference’s basketball coaches gathered at the Little Creek Park golf clubhouse in South Charleston Friday for the league’s media day to give short presentations on their respective teams.

But the thoughts and well-wishes of many of those in attendance centered around one coach who wasn’t there — South Charleston girls coach Gary Greene, who lost his wife Lois to cancer in November. They had been married 51 years.

“If you get the chance, call him,’’ said Ahmed Witten, an SC assistant coach who filled in for Greene on Friday. “Send a text to him.

“Some days are better than others, so him being at the gym is good right now. Some days he won’t want to come to the gym, so we try to keep him motivated and the girls motivated.’’

George Washington’s boys and girls edged Cabell Midland in the MSAC’s preseason polls, with voting done by the league’s coaches and conducted by Wally’s & Wimpy’s. Huntington finished third in the boys poll, with Parkersburg third in the girls voting.

Here are capsule looks at the prospects of each MSAC team, listed in the order of the preseason poll. All MSAC teams compete in the AAAA division in the new four-class system for boys and girls basketball, with games starting next week:

Boys1. George Washington (19-5 last season): The Patriots return their top two scorers in senior guards Mason Pinkett (17.3 points per game) and Alex Yoakum (10.6), along with 6-foot-6 sophomore Ben Nicol. They made the Class AAA state tournament before the season was shut down by COVID-19.

“As you all know, if you have senior guards, you have [cohesion],’’ said GW coach Rick Greene. “Hopefully they can close a lot of gaps and weaknesses. I’m really happy with this team. These kids have played with me a long time and played a lot, so we have high expectations.

“We hope to be competitive. I always feel like if you’re competitive in this conference — if you can get runner-up or even win the conference — then you can beat anybody in the state. The conference is a big measuring stick for everybody.’’

2. Cabell Midland (21-4): The Knights also qualified for the AAA state tournament last year, and return four starters, including junior guard Chandler Schmidt (17.8), 6-4 K.K. Siebert (13.9) and guard Dominic Schmidt (11.8). Jaydyn Johnson, the school’s standout quarterback, is also out for basketball after missing last season recovering from a broken ankle.

“The difference in this team this year is that we’re a little more mature this year,’’ said assistant coach Cristina Schmidt. “Our practices are better, our practices are harder and the kids understand the game a little bit more.’’

3. Huntington (12-11): The Highlanders welcome back talent such as Amare Smith (16.7) and Eli Archer (15.4), but coach Ty Holmes isn’t ready to make any bold claims just yet.

“I really don’t know what we have,’’ Holmes said. “We’ve been in the gym three days, so it’s hard to tell. We’ll see in the next week or so. We’ve got some good kids, they get along and they’ve been working hard.’’

4. South Charleston (11-12): The Black Eagles sport three seniors, led by D.J. Johnson (11.1), their No. 2 scorer and top rebounder last season, and Isaiah Monday transfers in from Capital. “He sets the tone for us every day in practice,’’ coach Josh Daniel said of Monday. “He does a tremendous job.’’

Daniel is also impressed by the addition of 6-4, 230-pound Mondrell Dean, who’s getting Division I offers in football. “He’s as impressive a kid physically as I’ve seen in a long time,’’ Daniel said. Daniel noted that freshman Wayne Harris has been SC’s “best practice player’’ the last two weeks.

5. St. Albans (17-8): The Red Dragons earned the program’s first state tournament berth since 2004 last March, but didn’t get to play due to COVID. Coach Bryan England returns senior starters Jaimelle Claytor (12.9) and Bones Johnson, along with senior Ametrice Hall, a transfer from Martinsburg. Drew Reed (42 3-pointers) is another returning starter.

“We’re very excited about the guys we’ve got back,’’ England said, “and we’ve got a crew of freshmen who are probably the best freshman class I’ve ever had.’’

6. Capital (14-9): The Cougars at present have no seniors on the squad, which includes 18 sophomores and freshmen out of 26 on the roster. The leaders are juniors Elijah Poore, Kcion Welch and Garrett Stuck.

“This year, our strength is our youth, and our weakness is our youth,’’ said coach Matt Greene. “I really like this group. There’s a lot of potential. Practices are really good, and we’re building up.’’

7. Spring Valley (12-13): The Timberwolves return two starters — Corbin Page (13.4) and Chase Maynard.

“We’ve really got a lot of unknowns with our guys we expect to play this year,’’ said coach Cory Maynard. “Are they going to be able to step up and play?’’

8. Hurricane (7-15): The Redskins have just one returning starter in junior JT James, and only two seniors (Preston DeWitt, Jaxon Nicely). The squad is comprised of 10 freshmen, six sophomores, six juniors and the two seniors.

“I have no idea who my varsity roster is except for my two seniors,’’ said coach Lance Sutherland. “Practice has been great, but I have no idea at this point in time. We could be really good or we could be really, really bad.’’

9. Parkersburg (7-15): Coach Bryan Crislip’s Big Reds will rely on senior Carson Dennis and juniors Bryson Singer and Julian Martin. Singer is a potential breakout player on a squad that has three seniors, eight juniors and six sophomores.

The Big Reds will have to call off their first few games after going into a two-week COVID quarantine Thursday.

10. Riverside (1-21): Josh Arthur (8.9) is the lone returning starter for coach Taylor Woods.

“We had four other kids who got time on the varsity,’’ Woods said. “It wasn’t consistent, but they still got some time. I’m very interested to see what we’ll have this year. I have a group of kids who are fighters, who have that mentality of what I’ve been trying to place with them.’’

Girls1. George Washington (14-11): Coach Jamie LaMaster said he had more than 20 players on his roster in November before the season was halted, and now is down to 14. His rotation will have seven players, including returning starters Kalissa Lacy (24.6), the state’s player of the year last season, Mary Lyle Smith and Vivian Ho. Sophomore Kiersten Fore will also play a vital role.

“Our freshman class is probably our strength now,’’ LaMaster said. “I’m pleased with the way the kids are coming along.’’

GW had to change its opener against Woodrow Wilson to a scrimmage due to a lack of practices, and its second game was scrubbed with Morgantown due to COVID protocols.

2. Cabell Midland (18-6): The Knights bring back all five starters, led by Autumn Lewis (13.2), Rylee Allie (11.3) and Jazmyn Wheeler (11.2). The 16-player roster includes just one senior and two juniors.

“We’re really excited about this season,’’ said assistant coach Caitlin Carper. “I think we’ll be really competitive this year. We have eight girls who can start any basketball game.’’

3. Parkersburg (19-5): The Big Reds have to rebuild after losing six seniors, five of whom are playing basketball in college. There are no seniors on this year’s roster and three potential returnees opted not to come back.

“We’ll have the ‘S’ team,’’ said assistant coach Joe Carrico. “What do I mean by ‘S’ team? We’re short, we’re slow, we’re static — we like to stand. But we’re smart.’’

4. Huntington (16-9): Coach Lonnie Lucas’ team has three returning starters, led by Kaiti Swann (12.6) and Ravyn Goodson (10.2). The 16-player roster shows seven freshmen.

“We should be competitive as usual,’’ Lucas said. “This conference is always competitive.’’

5. South Charleston (17-7): The Black Eagles, who lost a pair of transfers to Capital, return four seniors in Maliha Witten (14.1), Mia Terry, Maggie Britt and Genevieve Potter.

“What helps us out,’’ Ahmed Witten said, “is the four seniors that we have, they’ve been there and they know how hard it is to make it to the [state] tournament, and they teach. They understand that.’’

6. Spring Valley (12-11): Coach Bo Miller’s squad has three starters back in Sidney Meredith (11.0), Caroline Asbury and Hallie Bailey.

Miller believes that if some of his other players step up to the challenge, the Timberwolves can be competitive in the league.

7. Capital (6-17): The Cougars hope to get a lot of mileage out of juniors Natalyia Sayles (13.1) and Talayah Boxley, both returning starters. Coach Michael Cunningham’s roster has three seniors, five juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen.

“We have four girls who played a lot of varsity minutes, so we do have experience,’’ Cunningham said. “Our main [shortcoming] is we haven’t won anything, so we have to learn how to win.’’

8. St. Albans (8-15): Coach Shayna Gore has four players back with varsity experience to go along with eight freshmen. The Red Dragons expect to lean on Abi Melton (6.5), Kylie Binion and Kira Hinzman.

“I really like what I’ve seen in terms of offense and defense,’’ Gore said. “We might not be the best skilled, but we’re really going to come at you no matter what the score is.’’

9. Hurricane (8-15): The Redskins have no seniors and return two starters. Coach Shawn Lucas thinks he can build on those two starters — point guard Maggie Odour (10.9) and Lauren Dye — who both also play soccer.

“Those two bring quite a bit of speed to our team,’’ Lucas said. “I’ve heard a lot of coaches say their teams returned out of shape, but these two young ladies are not out of shape. They play soccer year-round.’’

10. Riverside (7-16): The Warriors return no starters from last season and sport just one senior.

“We’re very young, very inexperienced,’’ said coach Scott Garretson. “But what I like about this group is that [most] teenage girls hang out in cliques — three or four here, three or four there. But the chemistry of this group is top notch. They really get along. I’m more excited about this group than any I’ve been around for a long time.’’

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

Preps Sports Reporter