With four All-Conference 24 players back, nine of its top 10 players returning, and a talented group of JV players moving up, the Carroll County’s girls’ basketball team has the potential for a deep playoff run in 2015-2016.
But despite high expectations and what appears to be a loaded lineup, Motley knows the Lady Cavaliers’ potential is simply that – just potential.
“I talk to them about working every day. We want to bring it every day in the practice and that is the only thing that will make us better. If you do that and play hard, the chips will fall where they need to,” Motley said. “You may or may not get to where you want to, but at least you know you did all you could to make it better. I have told them they are very capable of going deep in the playoffs. The potential is there. But they don’t put you there on potential, you have to go out and play.”
Carroll County found that out last year after a 16-7 campaign and a regular-season sweep of G.W. Danville when the Lady Cavs were upset in the conference semifinals by the same Eagles’ team. Leading the way will be talented juniors Mattie Kennedy and Keely Lundy, both first-team All-Conference 24 and honorable mention all-region selections a year ago. Also back are second-team all-conference picks in sophomore Mariah Carter and senior Haley Turman.
Kennedy led the team in scoring and rebounding a year ago, an unusual feat for a point guard, averaging 13.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. She also was second on the team with 3.4 assists per game while leading the team in 3-pointers (45) and 3-point shooting (34.6 percent). Lundy, meanwhile, led the team in assists (3.7 assists per game), steals (65) and 3-pointers (39) and was second in scoring (10.9 points per game) and boards (5.6 per game).
Motley thinks Carter may be primed for a breakout season after a second-team all-conference campaign as a freshman. Last year, Carter provided Carroll with instant offense off the bench, finishing third on the team with 8.2 points per game. A versatile player that can play most any position on the floor, she was also second on the team in steals (2.1 per game) and field goal percentage (49 percent) and third in rebounds (3.6 per game).
“Everybody knows about Keely and Mattie, but I am telling you, Mariah looks as good as anybody we have had in the fall and preseason right now. Offensively, she is putting a lot of points on the board,” Motley said. “Mattie and Keely draw so much attention because of their talent, we have to have other kids step up. Mariah seems to have done that.”
As Carroll’s starting center, Haley Turman also earned all-conference accolades last season after shooting 62 percent from the floor and averaging 4.7 points and 5 rebounds per game. The Cavs also bring back returning starter Gracie Davidson and talented guard/forwards in Rylee Haynes and Carlie McMillian. And with the return of Jade Holt and Sami Reece in the post along with Turman, the Cavs have a handful of talented players in the paint.
“I am excited. I felt like we struggled at times to score last year. I feel like this group, being a year older and understanding what we want to do, offensively we have been much, much better than we were last year,” Motley said. “Some of it has to do with the kids coming back, but we also have three kids coming up from the JV team that was 19-3 last year. They fit right in, play hard, make things happen and make everybody work. They’ve been a huge part of what we have done so far this year.”
Particularly impressive has been freshman Madisyn Dalton. A shooting guard/small forward, Dalton has already made her presence felt in the preseason for Carroll.
“She’s just very, very athletic and puts a lot of pressure on the basketball. She finishes well in transition and she’s a pretty good shooter,” Motley said. “She makes our kids work hard in practice because she brings it every day.”
Dalton drilled two 3-pointers in a scrimmage Nov. 23 against Bassett, while another JV call-up, sophomore Danielle Gallimore, canned four treys.
“She is the same way. She brings it every day. She’s really surprised me with her ability to shoot from the 3-point line. She’s as good a 3-point shooter as we have now,” Motley said. “It’s pretty nice to have that coming off the bench. I feel like we have plenty of depth and that makes a huge difference if you get foul trouble or injuries throughout the year.”
Junior Megan Garland is also up from the JV team. And while she is not as polished offensively as Dalton or Gallimore, Motley expects her to make an impact in other ways.
“She goes as hard as she can go. As soon as the ball is in play, she is wide open,” Motley said. “She plays in the post and makes our other bigs work. She’s as good of an offensive rebounder as I have because she pursues the ball so hard.”
With so much talent and potential, Motley intentionally set up the Cavaliers with “probably the toughest schedule we’ve had since I’ve been here.” The Cavaliers will start the season with six games in 10 days – two against Floyd County and contests with Radford, Turner Ashby, Magna Vista and Galax.
“Magna Vista, Floyd and Turner Ashby are as good as anybody we will see all year, at least until deep in the playoffs. I did that on purpose because that is what’s going to make them better,” Motley said. “I really like what Coach K said when Duke played Kentucky. He said we are going to go out here and see what our team is made of. We want to play as good as competition early to see what teams our team is made of, and we will find that out.”
This year’s team also presents Motley with all kinds of “good problems.” With Haynes stepping up and making more big shots, Davidson having more success shooting the ball, and Gallimore and Dalton coming onto the scene, Carroll has the ability to switch lineups for all kinds of different situations.
“We have a five I have been starting each day in practice and each game, but I told them we could have a different lineup depending on what other teams have. I like to play with a lot of guards, but I could start a different lineup with a team with two bigs when I need Haley and Sami or Jade in at the same time. With a really quick point guard, I may need Graice more than Mariah. We have talked about it with the kids – it doesn’t have to do with whose starting, it’s finishing when it matters.”
Motley said he told the team they’ve also given him a “big problem” in that the 11th and 12th man on the bench are good enough to play all the time for past teams. He feels like Carroll will be entertaining to watch. And while last year’s team struggled to throw it in the ocean at times, this team has more kids capable of attacking the basket and generating offense when the outside shot isn’t falling. Above all, he is stressing team unity this year with such a deep and talented squad.
“Our motto this year is, ‘All in.’ That means everybody is all in to the same purpose, and as of now we are that way. I think that will determine how successful our season is,” Motley said. “We can practice every day and play every day for each other, and if we can do that we can be extremely successful.”
The Lady Cavs open the season Dec. 2 at home against Floyd County.
Allen Worrell can be reached by calling (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]