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Defense, defense, defense: Varsity girls coach brings new strategy

By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

Yes, the Davie varsity girls basketball team has languished at the bottom of the Central Piedmont Conference each of the past three years, and the year before that it was next-to-last in the league.

Yes, the War Eagles went belly-up last year, losing all 25 games.

But now it’s time to turn the page and look ahead to a promising future.

Eight of first-year coach Lindsey Adams’ 11 players are varsity returners. Three girls are entering their third varsity season. The bulk of the roster is battle-tested and scarred, wisened and refined.

Adams is pleased with what she’s seen during preseason practices, especially on the defensive end.

“Their confidence is being built and they’re not scared to make mistakes now,” she said. “I feel like when I first got here, they kind of played like robots, like they were scared to make a mistake. They were trying to think about everything, and now things are more fluid because defense is leading to our offense with transition points. Stuff like that doesn’t take offensive skills. Anybody can play hard defense, get a steal and make a layup.”

The players voted for three captains, and the selections were senior Layla Caldwell and juniors London Dirks and Olivia Tatum.

Tatum will play point guard and shooting guard. She’s a third-year varsity player who averaged 4.1 points as a sophomore.

“Olivia has been amazing all around,” Adams said. “She thrives off defense. Defense gets her offense started. Because she’s so active on defense, she’s getting so many transition points. She’s starting to attack the rim more. She is what sparks our defense.”

Like Tatum, Dirks is a combo guard and a third-year varsity player.

“London is a very good vocal leader,” she said. “If I ask her to do something, she makes sure the team is doing exactly what I’m asking. She’s someone I can trust. She makes sure the girls’ attitudes stay up.”

Caldwell is back at center after not playing as a junior. She was, though, a varsity player as a freshman and sophomore.

“She’s doing good on the back side of our press,” she said. “She’s strong in the post. She’s getting putbacks and rebounds. When we’re running in transition, she can go rim to rim and our guards can lob it up to her for transition points.”

The other third-year varsity player is junior Kaylyn Nuckols, who brings toughness to her 4-5 post positions.

“Kaylyn is an all-around player,” she said. “Anything I ask, she’ll try to do it. She’ll dive on the floor. She’ll try to take a charge. She’s very positive. If some girls get their head down, she’ll try to pick them up. She’s very, very aggressive on defense. She’s not going to let somebody push her around underneath. She might get five fouls real quick, but she’s going to be aggressive for me.”

The No. 1 scorer from 2019-20 is sophomore power forward Elizabeth Johnson. While averaging six points, she showed the potential of becoming a double-double machine in due time.  She had a game with 11 points and eight rebounds. She had 18 points, six rebounds and five steals in another game. She had nine points and nine rebounds one night. She had two games with 13 points.

“At first I didn’t know if we’d be able to press with two big girls (E. Johnson and Caldwell) in the game,” Adams said. “But Liz is able to move up to a wing and she’s been doing great. She has the speed to be able to get back on defense just like a guard. She’s doing really good inside. I told her when she gets a rebound: ‘I trust you to dribble. You don’t have to wait on a guard to come to you. You can push it and go.’ When they pass it inside to her, she’s going to do everything she can to turn, face the basket and put it up.”

Four more sophomores are varsity returners: Sydney Dirks, Rebecca Devericks, Keelyn Oakes and Somer Johnson and. S. Johnson, who plays the 2-3 spots, was good enough offensively as a freshman to produce four games with eight or nine points.

“Somer is doing very good offensively as a spot-up shooter and looking to penetrate and kick,” Adams said. “She is doing a lot better on defense. I’ve told the girls you’re going to play defense because one weak player on defense will get you beat. I’m trying to change her to a defensive mindset, and she’s doing really well for us.”

S. Dirks, like her older sister London, is a guard. So is Devericks.

“Sydney is doing very good on defense,” Adams said. “We’ve put in a lot of defenses that are new to the girls, and she’s doing good at getting steals.

“Rebecca’s speed helps in our press. One thing we were struggling with was our transition defense, and last practice especially she did a really good job of picking up the ball before it comes across halfcourt. She was talking and taking charge, which is something we are focussing a lot on.”

Oakes, who plays the three, can help the cause in various ways.

“Keelyn is a fantastic role player,” Adams said. “She gets rebounds, hustles and communicates. She can step out and hit some 3s. She can penetrate and kick to somebody open. She can do a lot of good things.”

Senior Isabella Kite, a 5-10 post player, is back after taking a year off. She played varsity as a sophomore, getting eight points and seven rebounds in one game and 10 points and eight boards in another.

“We need her size underneath, but she’s also somebody who can shoot from the high post because she used to be a guard,” she said.

Adams has two seniors, three juniors, five sophomores and one freshman. The lone ninth grader is power forward Malayka Rankin.

“She has come in very mature,” she said. “She wants to learn. She may not be as much of a vocal leader, but mentally she’s been one of the strongest girls that I have. One time she twisted her ankle. Coach (Debbie) Evans and I could tell she was hurt, but she wouldn’t say anything. We asked her if she’s OK and she ignored it. Somebody like that is who you want on your team.”

After going 15-82 over the past four years, after losing 39 of 42 CPC games, after enduring the hopeless year of 2019-20, the War Eagles are starving for competitiveness. No doubt, it’s an upward trail. But Adams said the rebuilding project is on schedule as the season approaches.

“I can’t say enough how proud I am of them,” she said. “From what I saw when I first came to what I see now, they have made so much improvement – with attitudes and how positive they are. They push themselves. Before, I would set a time for them to complete a sprint and half my girls couldn’t do it. I said: ‘Look, ladies, I had a 250-pound post player that made these times when I played. I know you can do it. I did it when I played. You can do it.’ Now the girls make their times. I’ve even had to lower some of the times because they’re all making it and I want to make it harder for them. So I can’t say enough about how much they’ve improved already.”