RALEIGH — There’s a countdown happening at Millbrook High School.
“It says 140 days until we go back to the (Dean Smith Center),” said Wildcats forward Ryan Flowers of TV monitors at the school. “We haven’t even played our first game yet.”
Expectations are high for the Millbrook squad defending its first girls’ basketball state championship in school history, and even higher because of the group of girls who make up the team.
All eight of the team’s seniors signed letters of intent Wednesday to play collegiate basketball, and they are also part of a group looking to make its third trip to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A finals in as many years.
The Wildcats defeated West Forsyth 57-40 in the 2012 title game one year after finishing as runner-up to Southwest Guilford.
Despite being defending champions, the team still remembers falling short in 2011.
“Losing sophomore year, that still hurts,” Flowers said.
The Wildcats, returning four starters, are favored to repeat this year, but coach Chris East doesn’t want his players to be too concerned with outside pressures.
“We set the expectations, nobody else,” he said. “Our focus is one game at a time. Move on and see what happens.”
Millbrook finished the 2011-12 season 31-2, but the road back to the state finals may not be easy with every team in the state gunning to take the Wildcats out.
“People feel like they have a lot to prove against us,” said center Bria Day. “These teams can lose every game of the year, but if they beat Millbrook, they’ve done something.”
Day will be expected to step up and step into what might seem like familiar shoes.
After missing nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury, Day will take over most of the minutes played by her twin sister Briana, who is ineligible for the first half of the season. The sisters both committed to play basketball at Syracuse.
While sidelined last year, Bria Day was looked at as a sort of “coach-teammate,” and that leadership will be necessary again this year as the team tries to make up for a substantial missing piece.
“It’s hard to lose a 6’4, athlete,” East said of Briana Day, who led the team in scoring last year. “She’s a player that affects both ends of the court, but no excuses.”
The team will also be without Taylor Houston, Adrienne Boone and Breana Winston, who graduated.
Roles will change to fill those spots, East said.
Other returning players are Flowers (UNC-Wilmington commit), Courtney Best (Campbell), Mykia Jones (Wake Forest), Alex Tomlinson (Wingate), Katelyn Mitchell (UNC-Pembroke) and Brianna Hinton (Barton).
Among the team’s new additions is freshman Danielle Audain, a guard who is expected to contribute.
“We have to get the new kids on board, but I think this team could be special,” East said.