The latest edition of The Daily Record's "Hoops Preview" series examines experienced backcourts for both Western Harnett basketball teams.
LILLINGTON — Last year saw the Western Harnett girls basketball team form an identity that translated into a four-game win streak to begin the 2020-21 campaign.
Western coach Matthew Smith brings back most of his group that posted the program’s longest unbeaten spurt to begin a season in over a decade.
Senior guard Makenyia Mackey returns as the Lady Eagles’ top scorer and has been the unquestioned captain during early practices.
“I’m going to depend on (Mackey) a bunch. She is a leader, whether it’s on the volleyball court or the basketball court,” Smith said, noting her ability to galvanize teammates in the locker room, on the court and even outside the gym for group hangouts.
Defensive pressure was a key ingredient to the hot start, which Smith hopes to see continue with the help of quick, athletic players.
Joining Mackey are returning starters Shay McCants and Sydney Jackson.
McCants helped charge the offense with her ball-handling and shooting, while Jackson finished as the squad’s leader in steals. Both are expected to increase their workload and use speed on both ends to create transition opportunities.
Though Smith says the half-court scheme is a work in process, everyone has the freedom to shoot when open because of their hoops knowledge.
“The best thing about this team is, we don’t have to have an offensive set,” he said.
“This team will move ... they’ll pass, they’ll cut. There’s a lot more basketball I.Q. this year and that’s what I’m really looking for.”
The intelligence has led Smith to become more open to on-court adjustments from players.
Trinity Gaither and Maddie Burns are also expected to log key minutes for the Lady Eagles, who open the 2021-22 slate against Harnett Central Monday, Nov. 22.
“I see leadership coming, I see them maturing and I see them coming together as one,” Smith said.
“This is a good bunch of girls that have come together and just bonded.”
When Western Harnett boys basketball coach Seth Womble leads his group into a season-opening tilt with in-county rival Harnett Central next week, a host of new faces will speckle the court.
Gone is the senior trio of Misha-El Vines, Ethan Lank and Sebastian Branford, who averaged north of 20 points and provided playmaking and defense.
Senior off-guard Christian Fielden is the Eagles’ leading scorer among returners and now tries to rally a host of underclassmen, most of which lack varsity experience.
“We’re counting on those guys, especially Christian,” Womble said. “Being a good vocal leader, and when he’s not leading vocally, leading by example.”
Junior speedster Josiah Smith was used more down the stretch last season and is expected to help Fielden from the defensive end. Meanwhile senior wing Tyler Brown, and juniors Ian Bristow and Carlito Maldonado also return with working knowledge of Womble’s system.
Though the team’s roles are set in stone as of yet, a gang of newcomers is expected to be in the rotation, including freshman point guard Fred Belk and sophomore Jaden Maynard.
“This year, we have some new guards and so, they have to learn a little bit more of the system, which is gonna be a challenge in itself,” Womble said.
He added that the main priorities early on will be taking care of the ball, initiating offensive sets and establishing more continuity and passing.
“I think the more that we’re playing with those guys and the more experience those guys get, the better they’re gonna be,” he said.
Transfer forward Jackson Lavengood will hold most of the post duties and is expected to use his broad frame to contribute on the glass.
Between now and Tuesday’s tipoff against Central, Womble says the group will watch film of early scrimmages and practices to make corrections.
“They’re acceptive of the coaching, which is something that I think shows me that they’re willing to learn,” he said.
“So, we’re gonna adapt, learn and we’re gonna have positive attitudes. And I think if we have those things, and if we share the basketball, we can be successful.”
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.