Girls’ Basketball Preview

Girls’ basketball preview: Chapel Hill returns its lineup from a 30-2 team

tstevens@newsobserver.comNovember 17, 2013 

Holly Spring's Kiera Leslie (5) puts up a jump shot over Green Hope's Cassidey Sowards last season.


Veteran Chapel Hill High girls’ basketball coach Sherry Norris’ teams have won 510 games in her 35 seasons there, and the Tigers are expected to add a lot more victories this season.

The Tigers return their starting lineup from a club that played in the NCHSAA Class 3A state championship game. Chapel Hill lost to Charlotte Harding in the finals 56-52, but look capable of dashing back to the championship game again this season.

Norris has a 510-375 record, including the 30-2 mark last year and a 24-2 state semifinal club in 2011-12. The team’s only regular-season loss last year was a 42-33 setback to Northern Nash on Jan. 2.

“I think we’re better than we were last year,” Norris said. “We’ll miss Laura Musalem and what she did for us defensively as a senior last year. She didn’t score a lot, but she was a catalyst for the team with her defensive pressure. I’m waiting to see who’ll step up to do that this year.”

Leading the veterans are a pair of four-year starters: Jamella Smith, who averaged 11.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and three assists, and Bucknell recruit Catherine Romaine, who averaged 10.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks. They’ve come a long way since their 11-11 season as freshmen: Over the past three years, Chapel Hill has lost just seven games when both Smith and Romaine were in the lineup.

Romaine was the Eastern Regional most valuable player and the Tigers’ MVP.

Junior Raziyah Farrington averaged 10.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals.

Norris adds newcomer Page Timothy, a 6-0 senior who didn’t play basketball last year, to the front court along with the 6-3 Romaine.

J. Mike Blake and W.E. Warnock contributed to this story.

Teams to watch

Millbrook (33-0): Millbrook is coming off a three-season run that included 31-2, 31-2, 33-0 seasons and N.C. High School Athletic Association state titles the past two years. The Wildcats graduated eight seniors who received basketball scholarships, but have five lettermen returning.

“This year’s team will include a strong freshman class (Kai Crutchfield, Sis Norman, Dazia Powell and Zairya West) on the varsity,” Millbrook coach Chris East said. “Junior Daria Warren also is getting recruiting attention.”

Seniors Jaylaan Dillard, Destinie Dunn and Ajae Grisby are expected to be part of a solid nucleus.

Southeast Raleigh (30-1): Amber Richardson, a 6-foot junior N.C. State commitment, helped the Bulldogs to a 30-1 record, which included a 58-39 loss to eventual state 4A champion Millbrook in the state semifinals. Richardson averaged 9.8 points per game in a balanced attack. Jade Phillips, a 5-foot-11 guard, is getting Division I offers and point guard Alexus Hicks was the team’s leading scorer (11.4 ppg) and an all-conference pick in 2012-2013.

Cardinal Gibbons (18-7): The Crusaders return five starters, including three-time all-conference pick Morgan Reid (13.4 points, 4.8 assists) and two-time all-conference selection Madison Beuris (10.8 points, 11.2 rebounds.) Sophomore Olivia Smith was an all-conference pick in 2012-13.

Bunn (23-7): Reached the 2A quarterfinals before losing to Kinston. The Wildcats bring back four of their top five scorers, including junior Tainasha Vines (14.3 ppg) and sophomore Precious Walker (9.2 ppg).

Siler City Jordan-Matthews (27-4): The Jets, who played for the NCHSAA 2A championship in 2012 and reached the 2A semifinals last season, will be starting over; the top three scorers graduated. Senior Madison Poe and sophomore Odyssey Poe return to the lineup.

East Wake (18-8): The Warriors return 5-9 Kianna Wynn (10.2 ppg), 5-10 Briana Arnold, and 6-0 Angel Rizor.

Green Hope (26-3): The Falcons have developed a strong tradition in girls’ basketball, winning the last four conference titles with a 64-game regular-season conference win streak. However, Green Hope returns just one starter in Jaria Martin.

Durham Hillside (24-5): The Hornets won the PAC-6 conference tournament in 2012-13, and were ousted in the second round by Holly Springs. Junior Justine Lyons leads a balanced group of experienced players.

North Johnston (20-7): The Panthers have outstanding athletes. Seven of their 10 players play three high school varsity sports. Chandler Hines led the team in points (13) and assists (5.6) last season.

Ravenscroft (15-14): Coach Shon Hardy said this is his most talented team since the 2009 squad that reached the state semifinals. Cailin Dorsey (11.0 points) was the leading scorer in 2012-13 and 6-0 sophomore Nandi Traywick and sophomore Alexis Hunter were tops in rebounding.

Southern Durham (19-7): The Spartans knocked off Hillside for the PAC-6 title, but now move to the Big Eight to face Gibbons and Chapel Hill. Senior Bryanna Staton and sophomore Alexis Joyner will provide the scoring punch.

Clayton (16-10): The Comets were the only team to knock off Southeast Raleigh in the regular season and coach Marlon Lee brings back his top four scorers in Taisha Murphy, Vanessa Pitts, Tajah Clark and Jenna Harris.

Cary Academy (21-6): The Chargers reached the NCISAA 3A semifinals in 2012-13 and return UNC-Wilmington recruit Rebekah Banks (11.5 points, 12.8 rebounds per game) along with starters Brittany and Victoria Powell.

Apex (17-11): The Cougars could be in for a breakout season. After reaching the second round of the playoffs, Apex returns its entire starting lineup: Elon recruit Emily Sasser (10.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals per game), junior second-team all-conference pick Mia Castagnero (7.7 points, 7.1 rebounds), Meredith recruit Samantha Curcuru, guard Joelle Deese (6.1 ppg) and center Tiffany Finley (6.8 ppg). Reserves Jess and Katie Wight both have experience and senior Aliya Ruffin, the team’s leading scorer in 2011-12, returns after missing last year with a torn ACL.

Cedar Ridge (17-10): The Red Wolves lost in the second round of the 2A playoffs and return second-leading scorer Kacia Vines. Cedar Ridge is 3A this season.

Harnett Central (21-6): It could be an uphill climb for the Trojans this season. Gone are the top six scorers from last season.

Players to watch

Azura Stevens, Cary, 6-4, Sr.: Duke recruit averaged a double-double during her freshman and sophomore seasons, but missed most of last season with a broken fibula. She is the school record holder in blocked shots and has 840 career points. The Imps (10-16 in 2012-13) return four starters, including three-year starter Meredith Courtney, and have added junior center transfer Brooke Anthony-Robinson.

Mone’ Jones, Riverside, 6-3, Jr.: Riverside (11-15) didn’t qualify for the state playoffs last season, but is expected to contend this season. Jones is an outstanding two-sport athlete and was one of the leaders of the Pirates’ 26-2 volleyball team.

Grace Hunter, Athens Drive, 5-8, Jr: One of the best scoring threats in the Triangle averaged 22.6 points for the Jaguars (14-13) in coach Dayna Jordan’s first season.

Kaila Ealey, Broughton, 5-6, Jr.: Helped lead the Caps to the state 4A semifinals by averaging 14 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Sister Nadine Ealey, a senior, averaged 10.4 points per game. Broughton finished 24-6 and returns four letter winners.

Kiara Leslie, Holly Springs, 5-11, Sr.: Maryland recruit averaged a double-double with 20.3 points and 11.9 rebounds while winning District 5 player of the year honors. Leslie is one of two returning starters for the Hawks, who finished 26-4 after losing in the third round to Millbrook.

Krystal Mangum, Wakefield, 5-7, Sr.: Two-time all-conference selection for the Wolverines, who were 17-9 last season and graduated only four players.

Keena Evans, Granville Central, 5-5, Sr.: Kicked in 16.8 points per game for the 21-7 Panthers, who move down to 1A this year. Senior Alexis Bailey averaged 12 per game.

Shontai Totten, Northwood, 5-6, Jr: Led the Chargers, now 3A, to the third round of the 2A playoffs and averaged 15.1 points. Northwood loses two starters from a 24-5 team.

Salita Greene, Jordan, 6-0, Jr: Averaged 14.6 points and 10.7 rebounds for the 15-11 Falcons.

Zuri White, Northern Durham, 5-8, Sr: Did a little bit of everything for the Knights, posting 13.7 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game.

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