With the 2018-19 basketball season just a few days away from its inception, the McDowell Lady Titans are still putting together the pieces as to how they will look this season on the hardwood.
But regardless of how the lineup may shake out, there is one thing head coach Jennifer Kinninger is fairly certain about: Her team’s willingness to compete.
The Lady Titans, with just five returners from last year’s team, feature three returning starters, and with a mix of younger skillful players, there is reason to believe this team can at least hold its own if not show improvement this season.
Coming off a 16-10 record a year ago, the team will be faced with some new challenges while playing a solid early season schedule. But what you see on the floor in the early stages will be different from what this team should look like once Northwestern 3A/4A Conference play begins in January.
“These girls have been working really hard so far,” said Kinninger, whose club is looking for its 35th consecutive State 4A Playoff berth. “We have only 11 current dressing players on the roster. Our twelfth player is dealing with some injuries. So having just 11 out there means that every one of these girls needs to be ready to contribute. And I think our practices so far have been tough and competitive and it’s getting us to where we need to be at going into the opener with East Burke.
“We do have a bit of inexperience with this group having just five returning players, but the girls really push each other in practice to become a better basketball player. Overall, I am proud of how hard they are working and getting ready for the season.”
Kinninger will be replacing essentially her entire her frontcourt from last season as forwards Hayley Creasman and Lily McKinney both graduated and post Makayla Brewer moved away from the area, but at the same time, McDowell will feature three returning guards to the lineup and a good bit of flexibility in positions one through three on the court. The returning backcourt should help guide the team especially early on while the new pieces up front evolve.
“Our guards are going to provide that leadership for us this season,” said the eighth-year head coach. “They have been through the wars of playing at the varsity level against solid teams and that will be very beneficial especially here in the early part of the season.”
McDowell will feature several familiar names at the guard position this season. It all starts with four-year varsity player Dezi Williams. The senior is a returning All Northwestern Conference selection and was the team’s leading scorer last season at 11.7 points per game. Williams, who is a multi-sport athlete, is still regarded as the most athletic backcourt player on the team. She will be looked upon to carry an even bigger load as a senior.
“Dezi, here in the first couple weeks, has really taken on a leadership role on the floor,” said Kinninger. “She has been a big part of our program and we are going to look for her to provide that for us once again.”
Guards Candace Cooper, Zoe Miller and Silese Carson also return along with first-year varsity players Alana Stephenson, Leila Bragg and Makaylah Chandler, a transfer from Buncombe County.
Cooper and Miller were primarily used at point guard last year, but with the addition of Stephenson and Bragg, both returning players might see time playing off the ball.
Stephenson has seen extensive minutes in the preseason as a lead guard with Bragg providing additional depth. Carson will return and give the team another athletic presence, especially on the defensive end. Chandler has shown promise here in the early going with her work effort and ability to hit open shots.
In the Lady Titans frontcourt, the team will be looking for immediate contributions down low in scoring, rebounding and defending the basket.
A pair of first-year varsity players looks to have the early advantage in getting major minutes.
Junior Makenna Parkins will get her first true varsity experience, even though she dressed in a handful of games as a sophomore, mainly during the postseason. Parkins will be looked upon to step in place of Creasman at the power forward position.
While not a natural post, Parkins has adapted to the role so far, as her inside game has improved from last season. Being left-handed will provide different angles for her to attack the basket, plus being more of a natural wing is going to potentially allow her ballhandling skills to turn into matchup problems against opposing forwards.
Sophomore Naliyah Boyce, after having a great offseason, has improved her skills and has jumped into a likely starting role this season. With solid foot work and hands, Boyce should be able to give the team a low-post option this year. At 5-foot-11, Boyce will also give the team size and rebounding in the paint; she is the tallest player on the roster in several years.
There is less depth up front than in the backcourt, but senior Megan Zullo and sophomore Daisy Rice will be looked upon to give minutes. Zullo played limited minutes as a junior while Rice came off a solid freshman campaign on the undefeated junior varsity team. Tayla Wood is the final member of the roster who is currently dealing with some injuries and will not be ready in time for the season opener.
There will be a slightly different look to the girls coaching staff this season. Laura (Snider) Boles returns as a varsity assistant, while former boys assistant coach Turner Kincaid has joined the staff and will coach the junior varsity girls team. Kinninger has praised both in helping with the preparation here in the first couple weeks of the season.
“I am really fortunate to be around a good coaching staff,” she said. “Laura is that silent presence that is always there instructing the girls one-on-one about what they need to be doing in certain situations. Meanwhile, Turner brings a lot of energy and excitement to the program not only as the varsity assistant but with the jayvees as well. That is something that we have not had as much of in the past couple years. But the best thing about the two is their loyalty to the program. They went to school here and understand the pride in winning and being the best team possible.”
McDowell Lady Titans head coach Jennifer Kinninger talks about the Lady Titans:
10 – Dezi Williams, Sr., G – “Dezi is our only returning All-Conference player. She is a versatile player, and we use her in many ways. She is our best on-ball defender and takes pride in that. Her athleticism really helps motor our team and get us going. Her leadership on and off the court is huge for us as well as her experience. We expect big things from Dezi this year.”
12 – Leila Bragg, Jr., G – “Leila is coming from the JV team where she brings with her a great work ethic and good attitude. She has really worked on her shooting ability, and continues to improve each day in practice. She will provide depth at the guard position.”
20 – Zoe Miller, Sr., G – “Zoe has one of the best basketball IQs I have had the blessing of coaching. She loves to shoot outside, but has really worked on being aggressive and looking to go to the basket. She is one of our leaders on and off the floor and I am counting on big things from her this season.”
21 – Tayla Wood, Jr., F – “Tayla is coming from the JV team to us. She has been experiencing some health issues that have kept her out so far this season, but we are looking forward to when she can join. She will provide depth at the post position.”
22 – Alana Stephenson, Jr., G – “Alana joins us from the JV team, and I am very excited for what she brings to the table for us. She is a skilled guard who handles and distributes the ball but also looks to score the basketball. She is aggressive and has a toughness that she brings to the team.”
24 – Makenna Parkins, Jr., F – “Makenna brings a lot to the table for us this season, and we are expecting a lot from her in the post position. She is a versatile player. She can post and be physical but can also step out and play on the wing as needed. She can handle the ball which is a great skill for a post player. We will be looking for her to step into a leadership role for us this year.”
25 – Daisy Rice, Soph., F – “Daisy is a sophomore we moved up this year. She is a versatile player for us. She is very athletic and can play on the wing or the post for us. She can take the ball end to end and also post up with strength. Her athleticism and length will add a lot of depth for us and help our defense a lot.”
30 – Makaylah Chandler, Sr., G – “Makaylah is new to our program, and she helps bring a sense of toughness each day in practice. She is strong and aggressive which makes her versatile for us. She isn’t afraid of working hard and that goes a long way.”
32 – Candace Cooper, Sr., G – “Candace brings a lot of experience to the guard position. She works hard and pushes those around her to get better. She understands the importance of protecting the ball and she is the one who settles our team down. She is a leader for us and brings a lot of positivity to our team.”
40 – Silese Carson, Jr., G – “Silese is one of our best defenders; she has a nose for the basketball. She is one of the most encouraging, uplifting players we have in practice. She is a leader for us to step up and motivate others around her. She has been more aggressive on offense this season so far, and we are looking for big things from her.”
44 – Megan Zullo, Jr., F – “Megan is one of our seniors. She works hard and battles every day in practice to gain position or rebound. She is strong and even though she is outsized she still fights every play. Megan will provide a lot of depth at the post position.”
50 – Naliyah Boyce, Soph., C – “Naliyah is a sophomore we have moved up this year. She brings a different look to our team, because she is taller than most players we will see. She is a strong rebounder and battles hard inside. She has a great attitude and always has a smile on her face. We will be counting on her to step up and be a big presence against our opponents every game.”
McDowell High basketball 2018-19
Nov. 27 East Burke
Nov. 30 @Fred T. Foard
Dec. 4 R-S Central
Dec. 7 @Mitchell
Dec. 11 @East Burke
Dec. 18 @R-S Central
Dec. 21 Mitchell
Dec. 26-28 @Freedom Tournament
Jan. 2 @Hickory
Jan. 4 St. Stephens
Jan. 8 Watauga
Jan. 11 Alexander Central
Jan. 15 @South Caldwell
Jan. 18 West Caldwell
Jan. 22 @Freedom
Jan. 25 Hickory
Jan. 29 @St. Stephens
Feb. 1 @Watauga
Feb. 5 @Alexander Central
Feb. 8 South Caldwell
Feb. 12 @West Caldwell
Feb. 15 Freedom
Feb. 18-22 NWC Tournament
Feb. 25 – March 1 Sectionals
March 2-9 Regionals
March 16 State Championships
NWC games in bold