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Seniors Bates, Rutherford key for young Lady Golden Raiders

Jeff Birchfield and Tanner Cook • Nov 22, 2019 at 4:30 PM

The North Greene girls basketball team may be at the top of the Watauga Valley Conference, but Cloudland and Hampton are in the mix.

Following is a look at some of the league teams.

Coaches’ picks

1. North Greene

2. Cloudland

3. Hampton

4. Unaka

5. University High

6. Sullivan North

CLOUDLAND

The Lady Highlanders lost plenty of production from last year’s team, which went 26-5 and made the region semifinals. However, Matt Birchfield, in his second stint as their coach, doesn’t call it a rebuilding year.

One challenge is a lack of height: No player measures over 5-foot-8. The starting lineup consists of Heaven Caraway (5-2, Jr.), Kenzie Birchfield (5-2, Sr.), Gracie Freeman (5-6, Jr.) at guards and Mandy Benfield (5-8, Jr.) and Jasmine Birchfield (5-8, Jr.) in the posts.

Leah Birchfield, Kaylen Fields and Karah Fields are looked at as key reserves. Layken Johnson, Ella Benfield and Ambrien Blair round out the lineup.

HAMPTON

Youth is the key word for Bud Hazelwood’s squad.

The Lady Bulldogs have 12 freshmen on the 20-person varsity roster, but they have some key returnees in big spots.

Hampton lost a prominent offensive player in Stephanie Campbell, but still has some experience remaining.

Hazen Brumitt, who showed consistent improvement last season, is looked to in the post. A good secondary option to Campbell last year, Hannah Collins is viewed as a leader for the young team.

Hazelwood has no concrete starting five yet and says there could be all freshmen on the floor at one time.

SULLIVAN NORTH

Led by seniors Sahara Bates and Katelyn Rutherford, the Lady Golden Raiders have a roster mostly filled with underclassmen.

Sophomore Lilly Crawford played well toward the end of the season and figures to be one of her team’s primary scorers.

North’s bench doesn’t boast a lot of size, but with 11 players on the roster the depth is there. But three of those 11 are freshmen who have never seen time on the varsity level, so there is a learning curve.

UNAKA

With coach Kenneth Chambers teaming with Mike Lunsford and Dawn Lowe, the Lady Rangers’ sideline possesses a bounty of coaching experience.

Unaka, coming off a 14-18 finish that ended in the region quarterfinals, has a new look following the graduation of star post player Myah Parlier.

The starting five is likely to be Lyndie Ramsey, Jada Whitehead, Zoie Grindstaff, KiKi Forney and Macy Ensor. Lilie Kiser, Whitehead and Grindstaff are the team’s seniors.

Junior Trinity Houghton and freshmen Mailey Guy and Mackenzie Depew are penciled as key reserves. Sophomores Natalie Stout and Veronica Holly should see playing time.

UNIVERSITY HIGH

Former David Crockett coach Marty Story takes over after serving as an assistant on a Lady Bucs team that went 15-14 last season. They lost a big chunk of scoring off that team, but there’s reason for optimism.

If the Lady Bucs can force a team into a halfcourt game, they have a significant advantage inside thanks to Mauri Johnson (6-2, Sr.) and Catie Leonard (6-0, So.). Delaney Trosin (5-4, So.) runs the point, freshman Katie Stancil (5-6) starts at shooting guard and Meredith Rice (5-9, So.) is on the wing.

Senior Elideth Lopez (5-5) heads reserves, who includes juniors Ryleigh Owen (5-5), Michaela Summey (6-0), sophomore Elizabeth Sherlin (5-7) and freshman Melina Summey (5-7).

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