Becoming A ‘True Family’

RC Girls Aim To Build On Postseason Run

Led by four returners and some promising players with junior varsity experience, the Rockbridge County High School girls basketball team looks to build on its postseason run last winter.

The Wildcats had a record of 8-18 last year, but they won four games late in the season, upsetting Broadway and Fort Defiance in the Valley District tournament before falling to Spotswood in the finals. They concluded the season with a loss to Brookville in the Region 3C quarterfinals.

Evaluating the Wildcats’ first scrimmage at home against Christiansburg on Tuesday of last week, second-year head coach Misty Armstrong said she “was impressed with our ability to see the floor. Everyone was spreading the floor like we should, and we were getting great looks, but we have to finish. We struggled to finish each possession last year, and I’m hoping, since we realize it is a weakness, we need to push to be better at finishing with each possession. Our forwards need to finish and our guards need to finish, which means lots of shooting practice for us.”

Armstrong said another positive from the scrimmage was the Wildcats’ defense.

“I was really pleased with how well everyone was going after the ball, without actually fouling,” she said. “We seemed to play much more disciplined and really move our feet, as opposed to swatting and picking up cheap fouls. I was extremely proud of their effort and performance.”

RC graduated one player from last year’s team, forward Jorden Dunn, who was a consistent scorer, rebounder and defender. Several other players did not return, but Armstrong is confident in the leadership of those that are back.

The Wildcats’ three seniors, all returning players, are their three co-captains: 5-foot-5-inch guard Emily Galford and forwards Graceon Armstrong (6-0), daughter of the coach, and Phynely Stores (5-10).

Armstrong said all three co-captains “have the most experience and provide a wealth of information for our varsity and JV teams. Graceon will be our speaking captain. Emily is our spiritual leader on and off the court, and Phynely will help us lead both teams in what it means to be a true family. Family and communication are two of our main focuses this year.”

Galford, a speedy player, often led the Wildcats in scoring over the last two years and fueled their district semifinal win by scoring 19 points and hitting a clutch 3-pointer in the final minute. Graceon Armstrong is a strong rebounder, defender and scorer. Stores has been a talented defender and rebounder who can score when needed and provides emotional leadership.

Armstrong said the Wildcats’ likely starters will be their co-captains, plus returning junior guard Zoe Camden (5-8) and sophomore Emily Mahood (5-11), who is listed as guard and forward.

Camden is a gifted shooter, especially on 3-pointers and free throws, and Mahood is a talented player who got experience on the JV team last year. Armstrong said she is “very excited with Mahood’s work ethic and her growth over the spring and summer. You can tell she put a lot of time and effort into becoming a better basketball player in the off season. She played with a travel team out of Harrisonburg, and she has just gained a lot of confidence.”

Armstrong said that “experience will be crucial for this season, but we have some coming off of the bench that seem to be pretty quick. We are trying to run a bit faster this year, so we’re trying to incorporate more conditioning drills in practice.”

One of the Wildcats’ key players off the bench will be sophomore guard/forward Aiyana Cooper (5-10), who played for the JV team last year. “Aiyana is just an athlete,” Armstrong said. “She will see time on the floor as a guard and forward. She is versatile enough to play either. I am excited to see her play at this level with this group of girls.”

Another player moving up from the JV squad is junior guard Tanya Suitte (5-6). “Her speed and quickness are definitely her assets,” Armstrong said. “She can get up and down the floor quicker than most kids.”

New to the team are freshman sisters Rachel (5-7) and McKenzie (5-6) Hines. Rachel is listed as a guard and forward, and McKenzie is a guard. “The Hines girls are just simply good athletes,” Armstrong said. “McKenzie will see much of her time as a guard, where Rachel may see more time as a guard and forward. I feel like both, like Zoe Camden, have such a strong lacrosse background, that playing basketball is an easy transition for them and will keep them in shape. They both know how to move in and around the floor, and both realize the importance of spacing. We are excited to add them to our roster.”

Also joining the team is junior forward Zoey Smith (5-10). Armstrong said that Smith “has the skills to play, but we are working on getting her confidence back. ... She can handle the basketball similar to our guards, but her height and strength will be needed under the basket. She is pretty shy, but I’m hoping she will come out of her shell because I feel like she has a lot to offer.”

Returning as RC’s assistant coaches are Penni Allen, Keston Beverley and Kim Pollock. Beverley will coach the JV team. “I am so comfortable with these three women, and each of them bring something different to our staff,” Armstrong said. Celie Hayslette is RC’s bookkeeper.

RC hopes to improve this season in the Valley District after going 1-11 during the regular season last year. Armstrong expects the toughest team to be Spotswood, with two college commits.

The Wildcats will begin the season with two nondistrict home games, against James River on Tuesday and against Riverheads next Wednesday. Both nights will start with junior varsity action at 5:30 p.m.

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