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STANHOPE — For both Southern Nash High varsity basketball teams, the 2018-19 season has tipped off with a healthy dose of optimism.
The Firebirds, once again under the direction of Robbie Kennedy, have started 3-3, with all of their losses coming by a single possession. On the girls side of the ledger, fourth-year head coach Jordan Bass brings back a senior core that entered the program along with him as freshmen.
The Ladybirds stand 2-4, coming off a wild 65-61 loss in quadruple overtime to Nash Central on Friday night.
Speed and quickness will be the hallmark of the Firebirds as they attempt to make a move in the 3-A Big East Conference, while in the case of the Southern Nash girls, Bass hopes a difficult three-year stretch will yield dividends with his seniors who have stayed the course.
FOOTBALL TO ROUNDBALL
While the early struggles in close games gnaw at Kennedy, it’s also a group largely composed of players ranging into basketball mode after falling in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A football playoffs.
“We really should be 5-1 or 6-0,” Kennedy said. “We lost to Beddingfield, and we missed 11 free throws in the fourth quarter that would have iced the game. Then against Corinth Holders, we had a three-point lead with about 35 seconds left and just didn’t play real smart. We actually missed a layup with about two seconds left to win the game.”
There’s plenty of youth on this Southern Nash roster, with just three seniors. Only one, in speedy forward Darius Edmundson, has played significantly.
“We’re still trying to find our way,” Kennedy said. “We’ve literally had three-and-a-half practices since football. And all but three of my guys played football. So we’re kind of learning as we go right now.”
With a lack of height on the roster, the Firebirds plan to compensate by quickening the pace and creating havoc on both ends of the floor.
Key in that regard will be Edmundson, capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket. His propensity to get fouls called in a freedom of movement game stands to get him to the line a lot, where he’ll have to make shots.
Currently, Edmundson is averaging 18.6 points per game to go along with 8.6 rebounds.
“He’s really hard to guard,” Kennedy said. “We talked about it (Friday) night after the game about how he makes it really hard on officials, because he’s going to get to the basket.”
Edmundson is supplemented in Southern’s starting lineup, at times, by senior Armando Dellavalle, junior Chris Allen, sophomore Chason Royal and freshman Jackson Vick. Allen provides size for a team that lacks it on the whole, while off the bench, junior Matt Foster is a defensive presence. Kennedy cites Michael Parker, a 6-foot-2 forward who hadn’t played organized basketball before this year, as a potential “X-factor” off the bench.
Boxing out, in lieu of height, has been emphasized. With a 12-player roster, Kennedy has used 10 with consistency.
The Firebirds finished 14-11 a season ago and third in the Big East.
“We’ve played Northern (Nash) tough the last couple of years, and Hunt’s going to be different with Dwight (Taylor) back,” Kennedy said. “But I feel like we can compete with everybody in the conference. It’s just going to be a question of making shots and defending.”
The last three years haven’t been the easiest of times for Ladybirds basketball.
When Bass first accepted the position, his current seniors were freshmen. Three years later, Southern Nash has compiled a 4-61 record in that span entering the 2018-19 season.
But those initial freshman stayed the course, giving the Ladybirds two wins in their first six games, including the quadruple overtime defeat on Friday night.
“Coming into the season, I definitely had a feeling that we could definitely be more competitive,” Bass said. “We finally have some senior leadership. Since I’ve taken over, we really in the past have only had one, maybe two seniors. In the past, only one senior would play and give us a whole lot. But this year, we have five seniors, and all of them really contribute.”
Currently, the Ladybirds are playing shorthanded without senior point guard Aaliyah Newkirk due to a knee injury sustained a week before the opener. Bass hopes to get her back in time for the Nash County Christmas Tournament.
In her stead, classmate Shontell Nicholson has taken over the floor general duties.
“That actually has put us back a little bit,” Bass said. “But, that has given a couple other girls a chance to step up and play more, and they’ve done some good things also.”
Three other seniors in forward Symia Mccalston, Stacie Winner and Nicholson see starting minutes for the Ladybirds.
The fifth senior, Krystal Taybron, has started but now contributes in a reserve role as Bass seeks to increase size in his starting lineup. Winner, who returns as the leading scorer for the Ladybirds, can stretch the floor and give Southern Nash a long-range threat. Newkirk, when healthy, will drive the lane and look to pass first. Taybron can spell Nicholson at the point and is a deceptive scorer.
An eight-player rotation has been the early season preference of Bass, which can be stretched to nine, if necessary.
In the Big East, Bass cites Hunt as the favorite to repeat.
“I really think if we can get some stuff clicking....I think we can surprise some people this year in conference as well,” he said.