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STANHOPE — Traditionally, height has been an attribute that has been in short supply for basketball teams from Southern Nash High.
That doesn’t figure to change as the 2019-20 season presses onward.
With the Firebirds getting their full complement of players on board following a run to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A football championship game, Southern Nash expects to be without the inside presence of senior Chris Allen for the duration of the season due to a knee injury.
For the Ladybirds, victories have been few and far between in this decade, with Southern Nash unable to secure a winning season with the 10-year period winding down. However, with one win in four games to date, Jordan Bass’s Ladybirds do have a promising freshman in point guard Jermia Walker.
Both teams take to holiday tourney play beginning Thursday, taking on East Wake in the Nash County Christmas Tournament.
With Allen’s injury inside, the Firebirds are down to a pair of returning starters in sophomores Chason Royal and Jackson Vick, both off the football roster. Allen’s injury is significant for a team that went 16-10 last season and pulled off a pair of postseason wins to reach the third round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs. The 6-2 center started every game last season along with Royal and Vick, leaving a roster that will have to rely on defense and gang rebounding to overcome a lack of height.
“We’ve got five guys back that played a lot last year,” Southern Nash head coach Robbie Kennedy said. “Not having Chris obviously is going to hurt. I think we’ll be competitive. We’re going to play hard. The biggest thing is, we’re going to have to find another scorer besides Chason.”
Allen was set to be Southern’s leading returning scorer, but now, that mantle falls to sophomore T.J. Tabron and his 5.5 points per game in 16 contests. A trio of seniors — forward Michael Parker, guard Matt Foster and senior A.J. Jones — give the Firebirds options off the bench. Kennedy expects the football cavalry to provide the physicality that went missing in the first few games.
“We’ve played three games, and we were undermanned obviously,” Kennedy said. “I saw some good things from the guys that are going to play minutes for us. We’re going to play some man, and play some zone. The biggest thing is going to be to guard the ball. If we can guard the ball, that kind of helps out the rest of the defense. We aren’t going to have a shot blocker.”
Getting the game to the final four minutes and turning it over to Royal and the backcourt will prove critical to winning close games.
“The key for us will be to score and rebound,” Kennedy said. “We want to get to the last four minutes of the game and have a chance to win whether we’re up four or down four. Last year, we were really good once we got a lead in the fourth quarter with three or four guards on the floor.”
For the Ladybirds, the annual task for the program has been to steadily increase its competitiveness.
Through four games, head coach Jordan Bass has seen glimpses of getting better. Southern Nash led Bunn at the half, beat East Wake in double overtime and held a lead at home over Smithfield-Selma at the half before losing by nine.
The Ladybirds were 4-18 overall and went winless in Big East play last season, continuing a string where the team has only won a single league game in the past five years combined.
“I’ve talked a lot about end-of-game situations,” Bass said. “Things we can do to get better at those things — not turning the ball over and how, when you have the lead, how to keep the lead. Taking good shots, and things like that.”
Walker, as a freshman, stands all of 5-1.
“She’s tough,” Bass said. “She’s small, but she doesn’t play small. She’s very athletic, very quick, and she’s got a little learning curve that she’s going to have to deal with. But the second she stepped on the court, she changed our team.”
Bass estimates his rotation can reach as deep as eight, which proved pivotal against East Wake when three starters fouled out of the contest.
Among the returnees, senior Rayna Bailey returns as the Ladybirds’ sole all-conference selection. Tristian Foster, a senior, returns to provide depth in the backcourt.
Senior Jalisa Williams, at an even 6 feet, gives Southern a presence to battle inside with. Senior forward Sam Gaure is an energy source.
“The size inside, you can’t teach height,” Bass said of Williams. “And Jalisa has that. She’s been big on the boards.”
Bass figures his Ladybirds will be in position to grab conference wins this season with added talent on board.
“We have more pieces,” Bass said. “We have the height, we have the point guard. And then, the experience at the same time.”