WAXHAW – There’s no way to catch lightning in a bottle twice, and maybe nobody is more aware of that than the Cuthbertson girls basketball team.
They’re fine with it, though, and fully expect to again be among the top 3A teams in the state after reaching the 3A championship game last season.
Sure it will be a different team after the loss of starting guards Kayla Young and Kayla McKinney, but there is a lot of holdover, too.
“I think we have a new sense of confidence,” said Cavs senior forward Lillian Anderson. “We’re aware of the capabilities of our team and we know what we’re capable of doing. That helps us out a lot in the preseason to push ourselves a little harder because we know the ability we have to achieve our goals.”
Those goals start with winning what should be a highly contested Southern Carolinas conference, and the players know it won’t be a given.
“We’re not the underdogs anymore,” said sophomore guard Ruby Williams. “People know that we went to the state championship last year and we’re not going to sneak up on anyone. We have to push ourselves. It wasn’t easy last year, but it’s going to be a lot harder than that was to do it again.”
But the Cavs are ready for the battle and doing all they can to prepare themselves.
That starts with a front-loaded schedule that features a brutal out-of-conference test featuring Butler, Ardrey Kell, Forest Hills, Myers Park and Union Academy among others.
They’ve also already tried to address one of the biggest deficiencies with the graduation of last season’s backcourt, which is ball handling.
Holdover Lauryn Hardiman will get the initial responsibility, but players like Williams, freshman Reagan Iovino and post players Maddie Dillinger and Anderson will all chip in.
“We’ve had people come in to work just on ball handling and dealing with pressure with the ball,” said Dillinger, the Western Regional MVP who averaged a team-high 13.7 points and also contributed 6.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore last year. “Dealing with the ball pressure is something we knew we struggled with, so we’ve been focusing on dribbling and making sure we can get the ball up the court.”
Once they get the ball over halfcourt, this offense can be deadly.
Dillinger is their leader and a next-level talent, but she’s far from alone.
Hardiman (10.6 points, 4.9 rebounds last season) and Anderson, a New Jersey Institute of Technology commit who averaged 8.2 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds are the big three returnees, but there is more to the Cavs story.
Williams (5.2 points and 2.8 rebounds last season as a freshman) looks like their next big star, although that may be up for debate with the arrival of Iovino, who coach Joel Allen calls the best pure shooter he’s coached.
She’ll help with ball-handling, but her biggest asset will be spacing the floor and knocking down what could potentially be open jump shots, at least until teams get a scouting report on her game.
“I think it’s her energy that makes the biggest difference for us,” said senior Trinity Cherry-Brown. “She makes 3’s and then we all start making them all of the sudden. She definitely boots our confidence.”
Although more shots will go to Iovoni and sophomore Kamaria Sheriff (2.0 points, 2.2 rebounds), the Cavs contend it doesn’t matter who scores the ball as long as they’re winning.
“We’re a lot harder to guard now, even more so than last year,” Anderson said. “Before a lot of teams would pack it in because we’re so strong inside, but we weren’t as strong outside. That’s not the case anymore because everyone on the team has become better outside shooters. Everyone’s a threat and if you want to leave Reagan open that’s fine because she can score 50 points.”
With so much firepower, the Cavs say they are ready to tip the season and see how it goes.
While it won’t be the same, this team has at least as much potential as last season, and with an added outside shooter and one more year in the system, this could be a championship team.
In order to reach their potential, they just have to rely on each other and, as coach Allen says, take it one game at a time and see how that plays out.
“Execution is key,” Sheriff said. “We have to do what we have to do and stay focused. That’s really all it comes down to.”
No matter if this season ultimately ends with a repeat of last season’s success or not, Anderson said her team will stay together and stay focused. And, after seven years in the Cuthbertson system that should be just enough.
“As a team, we are very focused on the ‘we,”’ she said. “Every single girl on the team works hard for each other and supports each other. We don’t have it where we complain if she’s getting more touches than me or whatever. It doesn’t matter if Reagan our freshman goes off for 25 points the first game, everyone would be so excited because it helped us win.
“It’s a team thing and I think that’s our biggest strength.”