PM Girls Eye Improvement

Defense-Minded Blues Eager To Return To Court

Last winter was a rebuilding season for the Parry McCluer High School girls basketball team, following the Lady Blues’ three consecutive Class 1 state championships from 2017-19.

Despite graduating nine seniors from the 2019 state championship team, the 2019-20 Lady Blues overcame injuries to several starters to earn a record of 10-12, winning the third-place game in the Pioneer District and qualifying for the Region 1C tournament, ultimately ending their season with a 40-22 road loss to Galax in the quarterfinals.

“We basically played the season with six kids due to injuries by the boatload,” said 11thyear PM head coach Adam Gilbert. “Between concussions and turned ankles, we had a hard time dressing out a full squad for any one game. Playing the eventual region runner-up, Galax, very competitively on their home floor hopefully gave our kids some valuable playoff experience.”

“Looking at the final score one wouldn’t think that but we were up by two at the half and were down nine to start the fourth quarter with only dressing out six [players],” Gilbert added. “Last year was a learning year, for sure, but I do feel like the kids made great strides both offensively and defensively.”

Soon after the season ended, the coronavirus pandemic hit Virginia and halted sports. After the team was eventually allowed to start having workouts again, the Blues adjusted to COVID-19 protocols in the fall, twice a week. The workouts were divided into two sessions to keep the groups small, allowing the players to socially distance.

“At the beginning of our fall workouts, it took some time to adjust to the new protocols, for sure,” said Gilbert. “However, after months of fall workouts and now a month of practice time, those protocols seem to be the norm.”

The PM coach noted that each player has her own chair on the sideline to keep track of her own water bottle, mask, foam roller and stretch band. The chairs are spaced out to meet the COVID-19 precautions set by the school system. Gilbert added that Shawn Ramsey fogs down the gym, classroom and team room after each practice. The check-in process includes taking temperatures and asking questions pertaining to the symptoms of COVID-19.

Going into this season, condensed to 10 regular-season games, all against Pioneer District rivals at this point, Gilbert said the Blues’ goals are “the same that they are for every season. We want to show up every day and put in the time and the effort to better ourselves as individuals and as a team.”

“We want to put as many ‘20’s on the girls’ basketball banner in the gym as we possibly can,” referring to the many district, regional and state championships the Blues have won this century.

The Blues are strongest in their team defense, Gilbert said, while experience is what they need more of. “The only way they will get that is to lace them up and play against other teams,” he said.

There were a lot of new faces on the Blues’ roster last year, but now they have eight returning players, with no seniors on last year’s team, and three freshmen. Two of the the returnees are the co-captains, junior Katie Claytor and sophomore Grayce Henson. Claytor, a 5-foot-11-inch player who can be a guard or a forward, was the only freshman on the 2019 team, and is a strong scorer, rebounder, defender and passer. She was named to the all-district and all-region first teams last year, despite having to sit out the entire postseason due to an ankle injury.

“She is a quiet leader,” said Gilbert of Claytor. “She leads by example. … She just shows up ready to work each day; when she does speak, everyone listens because of how hard she works.”

Henson (5-8) is a forward who was a strong scorer and rebounder and was named to the all-district second team last year. Gilbert said Henson “is like the team mom. She makes sure everyone is where they need to be and has what they need to have.”

Gilbert said all of the Blues’ returning players “have leadership qualities in them, and that makes it nice. We talk about having captains and how they have a certain level of responsibility, but everyone can be a leader in their own way.”

Besides Claytor and Henson, Gilbert said there are five other players who could be in the starting lineup. One of those is sophomore Anna Claytor (6-1), who plays at both the guard and forward positions. Katie’s younger sister, Anna was named to the all-district first team and the all-region second team last year. She is a strong scorer, rebounder and defender.

Another likely starter is junior guard Madie Henson (5-9), twin sister of Grayce. Madie is listed as both a guard and forward, and she received all-district honorable mention honors last year. She is an effective scorer, especially from three-point range.

Junior guard Kallie Grow (5-7) is another potential starter. Grow was slated to start in the backcourt for PM last year, but she hurt her leg back in the fall of 2019 and missed the entire season. Her twin sister, Amber Grow (5-7), is a junior guard who got valuable experience last year.

Bringing experience and height off the bench is junior MaKayla Tyree (6-0), who plays both the forward and center positions.

Also returning as a potential starter is junior Sydney Taylor (5-6), who plays both the guard and forward positions and is a gifted passer, often dishing out assists.

Addressing the uncertain starting lineup, Gilbert said, “It just depends on the day and the matchup.”

The three freshmen on the Blues’ varsity squad are guard Addisen Emore (5-5), guard/ forward Payton Emore (5-6) and freshman Savannah Lewis (5-6).

Returning as the Blues’ assistant coaches will be Gilbert’s wife, Katelin, and Katy Patterson. Katelin has been around the girls basketball program for the better part of 17 seasons as a player and now as a coach. “She has a lot of experience and knowledge that she can share with these girls,” Gilbert said. Patterson, a 2015 PM graduate who played basketball in high school, returns as the head junior varsity coach and a varsity assistant coach.

In the Pioneer District, Gilbert said it’s hard to say which team will be the Blues’ toughest rival. If everyone plays, he sees the toughest competition coming from defending champion Eastern Montgomery, runner-up Covington and Narrows. In last year’s tournament, the Blues lost to Covington 45-37 in the semifinals before defeating Narrows 41-34 in the third-place game.

In Region 1C, Gilbert sees defending champion George Wythe, Galax and Auburn as the toughest opponents.

After a delay to the start of the season, the Blues are scheduled to have their opener at home against Pioneer District rival Bath County on Tuesday before playing host to Highland County on Thursday, Jan. 21. Both nights will start with junior varsity action at 5:30 p.m. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only 25 spectators will be allowed at games. For those who can’t make it to games, the Blues will have video so that fans can watch on www.hudl.com for $5 or on the PMHS Facebook page.

As far as the schedule goes, Gilbert said the Blues have to be ready to adjust to changes. “We have games scheduled on paper but we understand that those opponents may change,” he said. “There is a possibility that some of our district opponents still may not be able to play this season. We have schools/opponents lined up and ready to insert in place of our district opponents in the event that our district schools can’t play. The only school we feel confident that we will play in our district right now is Narrows. We have to be flexible and willing to adjust our schedule on the fly.”

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