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Reigning Lanierland champs have new look, style
North Hall’s Katie Smith sinks a few shots during the Lady Trojans’ Wednesday afternoon practice at the school’s gymnasium. Since winning the Lanierland Tournament last year, North Hall is the number one ranked girls team in the upcoming tournament.
West Hall boys, North Hall girls earn top seeds for Lanierland

What difference does a year make in the life of a team?

For some it’s an increase in experience and skill, for others it’s a step backward due to graduation or a player’s injury.

For the North Hall girls and East Hall boys, both reigning Lanierland champions, a year has made a world of difference.

Last year’s girls champions were led by senior center Letiecia Davenport and guard Elizabeth Williams who, between them, accounted for 31 points and seven steals per game.

This year’s team is led by freshmen McKenna Rushton (9 ppg, 7 rpg) and Taylor Tate (12.6 ppg, 5 rpg) and boasts only one returning starter in junior point guard Shannon Haire.

"There’s a total difference between this year’s team and last year’s team," said first-year North Hall coach Bryan Richerson. "You had Leticia and Elizabeth that carried the team last year and there was more experience overall."

Lone returning starter Haire aside, North Hall (2-1) has only one other player on its roster who saw significant playing time in 2007 in junior center Mallory Rich.

"Our team is very young and inexperienced," Richerson said. "We’re still in the process of learning. We’re still finding ourselves and seeing how we’re going to do things."

How the current crop of Lady Trojans do things so far, is also a stark contrast to the 2007 version that won the Lanierland title.

A half-court offensive style that centered around getting the ball inside to Davenport has given way to a guard-driven, fast-break, four-out style based on driving to the basket and making reads on the way.

Defensively, last year’s here-and-there zone press and stout half-court man-to-man has been replaced by a pressure-packed, full-court style.

"We can wear some teams down, that’s our strategy," Richerson said.

While inexperience could be seen as a negative, especially entering a tournament like Lanierland where the gyms will be at full capacity, Richerson doesn’t see it that way.

And he has good reason due to the fact that in the Lady Trojans last two games — wins over Pace Academy and East Jackson — his two freshmen standouts in Rushton and Tate hit the game winning shots.

"It takes them about a quarter or so to get warmed up and their nerves to settle down," Richerson said. "But these girls are competitive and get after it.

"I know one thing, regardless of our experience, we’re going to go out there for 32 minutes and you better be ready to strap it on for 32 minutes, because we’re not going to quit."

The East Hall boys face the same plight as their Lanierland champion female counterparts: Inexperience and youth.

The Vikings return only one starter from last year’s team — senior guard Kiante Young — and are relying on players who didn’t see a lot of minutes last year like Kymmon Woods, Sterling Bailey, Dustin Duckworth and Miguel Smith.

Gone is a senior class that, per game, accounted for 45.5 points.

However, as has been evidenced by their streak of six straight Lanierland titles, and 13 championships in the last 14 years, rebuilding isn’t in East Hall’s vocabulary.

The Vikings are led by seniors Young (12 ppg), Smith (12 ppg) and Duckworth, who is the team’s leading rebounder.

"Our seniors have sacrificed," Dix said. "I openly admitted to them that I was kind of concerend about them because they were somewhat inexperienced, but they’ve been solid and done a good job leading.

"Miguel (Smith) and Dustin (Duckworth) have improved their skills to the point where they’ve become key guys for us."

According to Dix, this year’s team is quicker and shoots the ball better than last year, but rebounding and half-court defense leave a little to be desired.

"This team is not quite as big and strong as last year’s group and last year’s team was a really good half-court defensive team," Dix said. "That became their strength."

Regardless, East Hall is a perennial powerhouse, and the program’s past successess have and will continue to ensure a bright future.

"Because we’ve had to much success over the last 14 years," Dix said, "this tournament is bragging rights for our kids.

"I don’t know how my kids are going to react to being in the situation but there’s a lot of anticipation."

Anticipation fostered by Dix having his team huddle together to rub the Lanierland championship trophy in the middle of Tuesday’s practice.

"They (this year’s Vikings’ team) don’t want to be the one that breaks the streak," Dix said. "They know who the group was who broke the last streak we had and that’s major talk in our lockeroom.

"They are the next group in line and want to succeed as well."

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