For a basketball program as storied as that of the McDowell Lady Titans, last season was truly the exception to what’s been the rule around here for many years.
A lot of young faces last year were placed into key roles on the team and had to learn on the job. As a result, McDowell ended up with a season in which the team showed some flashes of what it was capable of but lacked some consistency.
But fast forward to now and with a total of 10 returning players on the varsity roster, the Lady Titans are ready and recovering from the growing pains of last season and have intentions to get back on the winning track in 2017-18.
“I’ve been really pleased with the girls and what I have seen these first couple weeks,” said sixth-year head coach Jennifer Kinninger.
“It’s been very competitive so far in practice with our returning players and the players new to the varsity program. I think that’s a good thing, it’s helping build team chemistry. Each of the girls are cheering and motivating each other.”
McDowell is coming off a 12-15 mark a year ago, the first time a Lady Titan squad finished below .500 since the 1983-84 season. Kinninger so far in the preseason has noted that her squad is ready to prove that the inconsistencies of a year ago are in the past and that they are ready to turn things around.
“These girls I believe are motivated to improve and get better,” she said. “They really are taking in what they need to learn.”
McDowell, with its return to the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, will reunite with some old basketball rivalries that helped make the program what it has been over the years.
For the first time in eight seasons the Lady Titans will be in the hunt for a conference title with the likes of rival Freedom along with other regional foes including Hickory, South Caldwell, Watauga and Alexander Central while developing new series with other league members West Caldwell and St. Stephens.
“I think our girls are ready for the challenge of being in this new league,” Kinninger said. “Our old conference, while it was tough in its own right, we had one or two spots where we felt that we could win even without playing our best. That’s not the case here in the Northwestern 3A/4A as you better be ready to bring it every night. There are going to be some nights in which the competition may be faster or bigger than us but we have to be relentless in our effort. If we can do that it will put us in position to have some success.”
The 2017-18 Lady Titans will feature as many as four returning starters in the lineup, including its leading scorer (Dezi Williams 13.7 ppg) and rebounder (Lily McKinney 8.2 rpg) from last season.
In the backcourt, junior point guards Zoe Miller and Candace Cooper will share duties directing the team on the floor. Both lead guards bring different qualities on the floor.
“Zoe has a good basketball IQ when she is on the floor,” said Kinninger. “She is good at getting everyone where they need to be in a specific situation. Candace brings a hard-nosed approach when she is in there. She is one of the most competitive kids that we have.”
Both players are looking to bring more production offensively this upcoming season to fill some void.
Williams returns for her junior campaign and will continue to develop her all-around game playing as a combo guard. So far in the season Williams has looked really good and should be poised to increase her production from a season ago.
Junior guard Kendell Brooks and sophomore guard Silese Carson will round out Kinninger’s backcourt. Carson was on the varsity roster as a freshman and saw a gradual increase in playing time as last season progressed. She will be looked to handle a bigger role in the lineup this season. Brooks, after playing at the junior varsity level for two years, will provide some depth on the roster in her first varsity season.
The most experienced part of the McDowell roster will come from its forwards and posts.
Hayley Creasman returns for her third varsity season. Creasman’s junior year was slowed by an ankle injury in the very first game at R-S Central last November. The injury cost her the first month-plus of last season and overall slowed what at that time was expected to be a big campaign.
The good news so far in the early going is that Creasman has been able to remain healthy and is looking to give the Lady Titans a good scoring and rebounding option. Her contributions could ultimately gauge the team’s success this season.
Posts Lily McKinney and Makayla Brewer will give Kinninger an experienced tandem down on the block. McKinney, in her senior year, returns as the team’s leading rebounder and second-best free-throw shooter, making 71 percent from the foul line a year ago. Meanwhile, Brewer, while just a sophomore, was thrown into the mix last as a freshman due to injuries on last year’s roster. Brewer contributed in a solid manner when she was needed. Having both players back in McDowell’s traditional three-around-two offense will be one of the Lady Titans biggest strengths.
Other posts on the roster include seniors Katelyn Smith and Ariel Lineberger and junior Megan Zullo.
Senior Taylor Buchanan and junior transfer Emma Banks will give the coaching staff additional options at the 3 and 4 positions on the court. Buchanan, while not having a big statistical junior year, did seem to provide McDowell with some much needed baskets in key wins.
McDowell opens the season at home against East Burke Tuesday.
McDowell head coach Jennifer Kinninger talks about the Lady Titans:
10 – Dezi Williams, Jr., G – “Dezi is our best athlete and makes things happen for our team. Her energy and work ethic influences our team in big ways. She is one of our best defenders and her speed gives her a quick first step when attacking the basket. She does a great job in the open floor. We will be counting on her for leadership and scoring.”
12 – Kendell Brooks, Jr., G – “Kendell is coming up from the JV team where she was a great leader. Kendell is one of our best defenders from the guard position. She has a great attitude and brings a lot of energy to our team. She has a great shot and looks to attack gaps. She will provide depth at the guard position.”
20 – Zoe Miller, Jr., G – “Zoe is a leader and has worked on her game a lot since last season. She is one of our better ballhandlers and will see time at the point position as well as at shooting guard. She is one of our more consistent shooters, but has also worked hard on being able to attack the basket and create things for herself. She has a high basketball IQ and helps her teammates figure out what needs to be done in different situations.”
21 – Emma Banks, Jr., F – “Emma is a new addition to our team this year. She moved from West Iredell. We are glad she is joining us; she is bringing length in the post and experience on the floor. She has been working hard to learn our system.”
22 – Taylor Buchanan, Sr., F – “Taylor is one of our seniors who brings experience and maturity to our team. She is going to help us a lot this year with her basketball IQ and how she looks to attack the basket. She can create opportunities to score for herself or others. She sees the floor well and is one of our better passers. We will count on Taylor a lot this season.”
24 – Lily McKinney, Sr., F – “After making all conference last year, we are looking forward to the impact Lily will have in her senior year for us this year. We ask her to do a lot against girls who are usually much bigger than her. She is very athletic and tough and we will need her to be a huge offensive threat for us. She is one of our best rebounders and works hard on the boards being undersized. She has a great awareness on how to move without the basketball and that will help our team a lot.”
25 – Ariel Lineberger, Sr., F – “Ariel is one of our seniors. She has a great attitude that is contagious, and she is one of our best communicators. She has a strong work ethic in the post and isn’t afraid to battle inside the paint. She will provide depth in the post for us.”
32 – Candace Cooper, Jr., G – “Candace is one of our best ballhandlers and has worked hard on her game this summer. She is always working hard and pushing those around her. She isn’t afraid to attack the basket and take contact and always plays hardnosed. She is one our best set shooters and is a competitor which is a great quality to have. She will be a leader on the floor for us playing point and shooting guard.”
34 – Hayley Creasman, Sr., F – “Hayley has been playing really well this preseason, and I am excited to see what she does her senior year. She is one of our best playmakers and looks for ways to create scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates. She causes mismatch problems, because she is one of our best ballhandlers but is also one of our strongest post players. We are counting on Hayley to bring a lot to the table for our team.”
40 – Silese Carson, Soph., G – “Silese is one of our best communicators and brings a lot of positive energy to our team. She encourages her teammates every day. She is one of our best set shooters and helps us on the defensive side of the ball with her athleticism. She is always looking for ways to grow and learn. I am excited to see how Silese continues to improve as a player.”
42 – Katelyn Smith, Sr., F – “Katelyn is one of our seniors who will give us minutes at the post. Katelyn works hard for us in the post, especially with her being undersized in her position. She is a smart young lady and has a high basketball IQ.”
44 – Megan Zullo, Jr., F – “Megan is coming to us from the JV team and brings a lot of physicality with her. She doesn’t care to beat and bang in the post and does a great job rebounding. She will provide depth at the post position.”
50 – Makayla Brewer, Soph., F – “We are going to be counting on Makayla a lot this year. She has a knack for knowing where the ball is and is one of our best rebounders. She is versatile because she can shoot outside, drive and attack the basket, and score with her back to the basket. She is very athletic and finds ways to score or get a stop on defense. She has a great work ethic and makes those around her better.”
McDowell High basketball schedule 2017-18
Nov. 28 East Burke
Dec. 1 @Mitchell
Dec. 5 @R-S Central
Dec. 7 @East Burke
Dec. 12 Mitchell
Dec. 13 R-S Central
Dec. 15 Hickory*
Dec. 19 @St. Stephens*
Dec. 22 Fred T. Foard
Dec. 27-29 @Freedom Tournament
Jan. 3 @Watauga*
Jan. 5 @Alexander Central*
Jan. 9 South Caldwell*
Jan. 12 West Caldwell*
Jan. 16 Freedom*
Jan. 19 @Hickory*
Jan. 23 St. Stephens*
Jan. 26 Watauga*
Jan. 30 Alexander Central*
Feb. 2 @South Caldwell*
Feb. 6 @West Caldwell*
Feb. 9 @Freedom*
*-Northwestern 3A/4A Conference game