With the football season wrapping up across the tri-county area Friday, the winter sports scene has sprung upon us with some of the area’s private schools already off to a positive start, and many of the public schools taking to the courts and wrestling mats this week.
The Laney Buccaneer boys and girls basketball teams opened play over the last week or so, while coaches Nathan Faulk and (girls) Sheri Tynes–along with wrestling Coach Jon Mauney–see their teams in contention for one of the Mideastern 3A/4A Conference’s top spots.
Coming off a 24-2 (10-0 in conference) season where the only two losses came at the hands of conference and county rival Ashley (39-37 in the Leon Brogden Tournament final and 75-72 in the NCHAA 4A state playoffs), the Lady Buccaneers find themselves in the unenviable position of having to replace graduated standout players Amber Doniere and Kelli Gottry, along with contributors Channing Bugbee, Alexis Toomer, and Chelsea Godette.
But Tynes and long-time assistant Russ Adams return six seniors–among them guards Tiana Edwards and Bailey Edwards and center Paulette Addison as they venture into a changed conference slate and an ambitious non-conference schedule that includes White Oak, South View, and Scotland County.
“We have playing experience at all of the starting positions, and the girls have an understanding of our team concepts and principles,” Tynes said. “Our immediate problem is a lack of depth at all positions.”
Tynes knows–despite the departure of New Bern and Greenville Rose, and the addition of 3A schools, Topsail and South and West Brunswick–that a very good Ashley team is out there as well as a New Hanover squad led by Alexis Simmons and Kapria Pressley, and it is those two teams that she lists as the top two conference contenders, with her Lady Buccaneers in the third spot.
The keys to those lofty expectations lie in the hands of several girls, starting with junior 5-foot-6 guard Tiana Edwards, who averaged nine points-per-game as a starter last year. Edwards will alternate between the point guard and wing positions.
Another returning starter is 5-foot-4 guard Brianna Baham, who also hit at the nine points-per-game mark last year. Baham, according to Tynes, will see the majority of her court time at the point-guard position.
Rachel Jacobs, at 5-foot-8, was an important player off the bench for Laney last season, and she will see time at both the guard and forward positions, as will 5-foot-7 sophomore Bailey Edwards, who played important minutes as a freshman off the bench last year.
The inside presence will come from 6-foot-1 senior center Paulette Addision, who was an excellent compliment to Doniere last year, and 6-foot senior forward Hannah McLendon, who has been an important post off the bench the last two years.
Tynes is also looking for major contributions from quick, 5-foot-7 junior guard Chalene Thomspon, who is also an excellent softball player, and 5-foot-11 senior Samantha Laskody, who will see minutes at both post positions.
Faulk saw eight seniors graduate from a team that was 6-17 overall and 1-9 in the conference–the only win being a 60-59 win over New Bern–meaning the Buccaneers will be very young.
“We are athletic and long and we have a talented backcourt with Kirby Kealon and Tariq Lane,” Faulk said. “We also have more depth at every position. We have good size with (6-foot-10) Bert Rivenbark and a very talented group of freshmen. We will be young, with two, possibly three, freshmen playing varsity.”
Faulk sees Hoggard as the team to beat. “We are hoping for a spot in the top three,” Faulk said.
Returning for Faulk will be last year’s leading scorer (11 PPG) in Kealon.
“Kirby was our leading scorer and he has gotten stronger and is able to shoot off the dribble better than last year,” Faulk said. “His ability to slash and cut to the basket using his athleticism is his strong point.”
Coming off his final football game last Friday, Lane is penciled in as the starting point guard.
“Tariq was our second-leading scorer last year (10 PPG),” Faulk said. “He has great speed with the basketball and is a tremendous athlete. He penetrates and makes the correct pass. He is very unselfish with the ball, he can find open teammates, and he has the ability to lock down defend on the ball as well.”
Rivenbark will man the post position, and C. J. Kirchoff is penciled in at a wing position.
“Bert has worked hard and developed well in the past six months,” Faulk said. “He is a big body and a true ‘old school’ center with the ability to score with his back to the basket. He has good hands and gives us a nice presence in the paint to alter shots.“C. J. is an athletic wing that shoots the ball well and pays extremely hard. He is strong enough he can play the post.”
Faulk is also looking for big things from 5-foot-11 guard Antwan Long, 6-foot-2 wing Rob Peterson, 6-foot-6 post Keegan Czesak, and 5-foot-11 shooting guard Marquan Miller.
“Antwan plays both point guard and shooting guard and is a vocal leader that thinks pass first, score second,” Faulk said. “He is a very good on-ball defender and talks on defense, always getting in the right place which helps our defense as a unit. He has developed his jumper and has become a factor on the offensive end.
“Rob is the son of (UNCW) Coach Buzz Peterson and he is a very smart player that is very long and wiry. He scores it well, has great knowledge of the game, attacks the basket, and is a vocal leader at a very young age.”
Of Czesak and Miller, Faulk says, “Keegan has developed his mid-range shot from last year, he runs the floor well, and he has started playing above the rim. Marquan has a quiet game but very effectively shoots the mid-range jumper, and defends the ball well, getting deflections.”
Faulk is also looking for contributions from newcomers Jordan John and Robert Wilkerson.
The Buccaneers welcome back 10 guys from last year’s varsity team and Coach Mauney feels there is enough talent in the cupboard for his squad to be one of the top contenders in the new split (3A/4A) conference that now welcomes three 3A teams (South and West Brunswick, and Topsail) that have enjoyed tremendous success in previous years.
“We have four returning state qualifiers and one returning state place-winner, and a great incoming freshmen class as well,” Mauney said. “The problem at the outset will be filing a few of the weight classes.
When asked who the conference contenders might be Mauney said Ashley, South Brunswick, West Brunswick, and Topsail, but said of his bunch, “We have a shot to win it.”
Brian Capps is the returning state place-winner and he will he joined in the lineup by returning state qualifiers David Bostian, Adan Hardy, and Russel Harrison. Mauney is also expecting big things from Jonathan Miller, Cole Plott, Joey Wieble, and Gant Bowman
“Jonathan and Cole are coming off good seasons last year, and Joey is a three-year starter,” Mauney said. “Markus is coming off a great off-season, and Grant had good off-season for strength and conditioning.”
As for what newcomers might contribute, Mauney said. “We are still figuring that part out.”