War Eagle girls basketball experienced and deep

Published 10:33 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2022

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

Before we get into the 2022-23 Davie varsity girls basketball team, let’s rewind to 2019-20. The War Eagles hit rock bottom that winter and ran the table in reverse (0-25). Then Lindsey Adams was hired as coach and the up-from-oblivion story began.

Even though she was a 21-year-old rookie coach, Adams bled three wins – against nine losses – out of the 2020-21 squad.

The long uphill climb continued in 2021-22. The pesky War Eagles improved dramatically and went 9-14 overall and 7-7 in the Central Piedmont Conference. They’ve gone from last in the CPC to second-to-last to fourth over the past three years. The .500 CPC record was a big accomplishment since Davie had managed just five league wins over the previous five seasons. It also earned the most wins in six years.

In 2022-23, we’ll finally get to see what happens when Adams has an experienced squad. There are seven returners. Sydney Dirks, Somer Johnson and Keelyn Oakes are fourth-year varsity players. A seasoned veteran has transferred from West Forsyth to Davie. You can understand why the War Eagles are as excited as they’ve been in quite a while.

Davie traveled to Freedom on Saturday to scrimmage four teams that posted winning records last year. Davie beat South Caldwell (13-9 last year) and Providence (18-7). It lost to Lincoln Charter (22-7) and Newton-Conover (24-3). The loss to N-C was by six points. The 2-2 showing against that caliber of competition confirmed Adams’ belief that there’s a genuine opportunity for Davie’s first winning season since 2015-16 and the first playoff appearance in seven years.

“All of that was without Kenadi (Gentry, the leading scorer last year who was out with a sprained ankle),” Adams said.

Johnson, who nearly doubled her scoring average from her sophomore to her junior season, looks primed for a big senior season. Last year she put up a pair of 21-point performances. In a win over Glenn, she racked up 16 points, six steals and four rebounds while sinking 9 of 12 free throws. The wing averaged 9.6 points and has attracted college offers from Brevard, Bridgewater (Virginia) and Agnes Scott (Georgia).

“She’s become a lot tougher and more physical,” Adams said. “She’s become more consistent and more confident as a shooter. We’ve been working a lot at getting her 3-point shot off faster, and now she’s added the ability to attack the rim. Most teams know she’s a shooter, so being able to pump fake, attack the rim and finish through contact makes her more of a scoring threat. I think she’s going to shock a lot of people this year.”

The leading scorer from last year is entering her third varsity season. As a sophomore, Gentry delivered six games of 16-plus points; she had 13 points, seven rebounds, seven steals and four assists in one game; she had 21 points, six rebounds and five steals in one game; and she had 16 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals in another. The combo guard’s season scoring average was 11.9.

“She’s gotten a lot better at penetrating,” said Adams, who expects Gentry to heal from the injury in time for the season opener. “She’s worked all summer at being able to penetrate and kick. She’s become more consistent with that.”

Adams considers the addition of junior Lauren Colamarino a game-changer. She played inside for West Forsyth’s varsity as a freshman and sophomore. She moved to Advance in January and decided to transfer to Davie in July. Her family is familiar with Davie; her brother Nathan played basketball for Davie and graduated from Davie in 2014. Lauren almost certainly will be a major part of any success Davie achieves.

“Having Lauren transfer in is the piece we’ve been missing,” Adams said. “She’s a post player to go with all the guards we’ve had. She’s 5-10 or 5-11. She’s the one who dropped 16 points on us when we lost (60-45 to West last year). She’s the reason we lost. I was super excited (when she transferred). We were able to play in the Blue Chip league with her every Sunday for eight games. The post was our weakness and she helps us tremendously.”

Malayka Rankin, a junior and third-year varsity player, is hugely important because of her blue-collar habits. The junior forward is tough as nails. She’s never seen a loose ball she didn’t think had her initials on it.

In one game as a sophomore, Rankin had seven points, eight boards and six steals. In a 70-63 win at Parkland, she amassed 13 points, 10 rebounds and three steals while going 4 of 5 from the floor and 5-5 at the foul line. She was a 4.6 scorer for the season.

“She’s coachable, she works hard and she’s always willing to put in the extra effort,” Adams said. “From what we’ve seen this summer to now, she’s become more of a scoring threat. She played on a pretty competitive travel team this summer, and that raised her offensive skills a lot.”

Junior guard Peyton Spaugh (3.8 ppg) will pester people to death on defense. In a 53-48 win over Mt. Tabor, she put up 10 points, eight steals, five assists and four boards.

“She had the most steals for us last year before she went down with an injury and missed (seven games),” Adams said. “She has a lot of control running the point guard position, which means we don’t have to run Kenadi at the point. Now I can put Kenadi at the two to make her more of a scoring threat.”

Dirks and Oakes will be a major part of Davie’s plans. The senior wings averaged 3 and 2.8 points last year, respectively. Dirks reached double figures twice, and she plays with an exceptional motor. In a home win over Parkland, Oakes was influential with nine points and nine boards. She was one of the heroes in the road win over Parkland with 11 points and 4-for-4 shooting down the stretch.

“Sydney has toughness,” Adams said. “If we want to bang on a girl or frustrate somebody, she’s one that can do that. She’s also doing a lot better job attacking the rim. Sydney has no fear whatsoever. If we want to get somebody in foul trouble, we’ll tell Sydney to attack a certain girl.

“Keelyn is kind of a sneaky player. A lot of people overlook her because nobody really scouts her. She’s one of the reasons we won at Parkland. They think she’s a player they can leave open – everybody runs to Somer – but if you leave her she knocks down open shots.”

Adams has plenty of pieces to work with, including sophomore guard Nadelie Jones. She was the JV’s top scorer at 14.1 for eight games. She was pulled up to varsity for the final 10 games and contributed 3.5 points.

“Her 3-point shot has become more consistent,” Adams said. “She has a high basketball IQ.”

Throw in Bailey Aderhold and Kaylee “KK” Lynch and Davie is as deep as it’s been in a long time. Aderhold is a fantastic freshman.

“Bailey really shocked me (in the offseason),” Adams said. “Obviously she was the leading scorer at Ellis last year, but I didn’t know how she would adjust to playing at the varsity level. This summer I played her up and against the toughest team we played at Liberty – they were a state championship team – and Bailey dropped 16 points on them. That’s when I was like: ‘OK, she has potential to score (as a varsity freshman).’ When other girls didn’t have the confidence to score in that game, she came off the bench, hit 3s, attacked the rim and took a charge. She proved to me immediately that she’s capable of playing at this level. She’s also a part of a really strong AAU program with the Winston-Salem Steelers, so she plays against tough competition all the time.”

Lynch will be a two-way player between JV and varsity. As a freshman, she was a monster on the glass for the JV.

“We’re using her for fifth quarter, so she’ll be with (JV and varsity) every game,” Adams said. “She can outjump most people and that’s why she’s able to pull down so many rebounds. We’re working on her offensive confidence.”

Last year in the CPC, East Forsyth (23-4 overall last year) and Reagan (21-5) tied for first at 12-2, and Reynolds (18-7) was just a game back at 11-3. Davie was next in the eight-team pecking order.

While Reagan could fade this year, East and Reynolds are the clear-cut favorites.

“East returns everybody except Natalie (Axtell), who shot 3s,” Adams said. “Reynolds is returning everybody. Reagan basically only has the big post player returning. Their point guard transferred to High Point Christian Academy, so they lost their best ball handler.”

As for the War Eagles, it’s teed up for them to enjoy the most success since 2015-16, when they finished 16-11 in Dave Ruemenapp’s third and final season as coach.

“We should finish in the top three,” Adams said. “East and Reynolds will give us a tough time, but I think we can upset at least one of them.”