WILMINGTON – It’s only fitting that longtime New Hanover Coach Vertha Dixon-Wright received Mideastern Conference Coach of the Year in her final season as head of the Wildcats girls basketball program.
While the accolades could have gone to Dixon-Wright to recognize her long history in the local game, it was New Hanover’s inspired play that makes the honor well deserved. The Wildcats got over the hump in defeating its crosstown foes Hoggard in two of three meetings this season. New Hanover finished a perfect 12-0 in league play as Mideastern Conference Regular Season Champions.
“My final season is one I will never forget,” Dixon-Wright said. “The team set goals and met all of them but one. I’ve coached some really good teams throughout my years, with this being one of the best.
“It’s not the first time I won the Coach of the Year Award, but this one seems a little more special. Thanks to the Coaches for voting for me. Why is this my last year? It’s time.”
The Wildcats had a 16-game winning streak during the year, just two wins shy of advancing to the 4A State Championship game. New Hanover landed two players on First-Team All-Conference list, including Player of the Year, Ayonna Cotten.
“Every night we were under-sized and won by playing good team defense and hustle,” Dixon-Wright added. “This team didn’t care who scored the most points, took the most shoots, they just wanted to win. Eight players should return next year and my only hope is they pick up the same pace they had this year.”
Dixon-Wright was a 2008 recipient of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Pat Gainey Award. She began her career in the school system at Trask Middle School, where she helped coach the girls basketball team for two years. After taking as head coach at New Hanover heading into the 1988-89 school year, she still taught elementary physical education. During her tenure on Market Street, Dixon-Wright collected 27 years of memories alongside seven different athletic directors and eight principals.
As a player, she saw time in 74 games during her three-year college career at UNCW (1980-82), averaging 4.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in that span. She’s second on the program’s all-time rebound list and currently sits in 17th place on the chart with 427 career caroms to her credit.
Cotten and her back court mate Azariah Fields combined to put together one of the top one-two punches seen locally in some time. The senior guard led her team, averaging 13.6 points per game. With 408 total points during her final season, Cotten scored a second-high, 25, in a 58-43 win over Northside-Jacksonville on Dec. 29.
In a third-round playoff contest against Durham-Hillside, Cotten dropped 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ayonna Cotton, New Hanover
COACH OF THE YEAR: Vertha Dixon-Wright, New Hanover
TEAM SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD: Laney
- Morgan Allred, South Brunswick: A player to keep an eye on over the next few seasons, Allred helped guide the Cougars to a nine-win season. The sophomore averaged 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The six-foot, two-inch forward had 16 double digit scoring efforts in 24 games played.
- Ayonna Cotton, New Hanover
- Jenson Edwards, Laney : After sustaining a shoulder injury early in the year, Edwards solidified herself as one of the top female two-sport athletes in the area after bouncing back from an ACL injury last season. The Bucs secured a first-round playoff round win this year. Edwards had a team-high 12.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
- Azariah Fields, New Hanover : Fields was electric at the point guard position for New Hanover. Helping lead the Wildcats to a 27-4 record, the junior averaged 11.2 points and 4.3 assists per game. She scored in double figures 18 times, with a season-high 21 point effort against Topsail on Jan. 6. She shot 41 percent from the field and 73 percent at the free throw line.
- Lola Lovitt, Hoggard: Garnering attention from a handful of Division I college programs, including UNCW, Lovitt put together a strong junior campaign for the 24-5 Hoggard Vikings. Averaging 13.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, Lovitt pulled her team together for a run to the Mideastern Conference Tournament Title. On Dec. 23, Lovitt scored a season-high 24 points. She had four 20-plus point scoring efforts during the season.
- Jaida Allen, West Brunswick
- Alani Fisher, Hoggard
- Payton Little, Topsail
- Lexi Melville, Laney
- Kayleigh Merrell, New Hanover
- Dana Craig, Ashley
- Michelle Jacobs, New Hanover
- Breanna Mercer, West Brunswick
- Tara Poteat, Hoggard
- Danecia Thomas-Price, South Brunswick