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HIGH SCHOOL SEASON PREVIEW

Southern Nash hoops teams optimistic, but now face longer wait

Posted on January 6, 2021

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Jermia Walker (4) of Southern Nash, driving to the basket during a January 2020 game against Hunt, enters her sophomore season with the intent of keeping the Ladybirds' improvement alive against 3-A Big East Conference opposition.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Jermia Walker (4) of Southern Nash, driving to the basket during a January 2020 game against Hunt, enters her sophomore season with the intent of keeping the Ladybirds' improvement alive against 3-A Big East Conference opposition.

Southern Nash's Chason Royal, driving to the basket against Hunt's TiQuez Taylor during a February  game at Hunt, returns as leader of the Firebirds backcourt for the 2021 season.

File photo

Southern Nash's Chason Royal, driving to the basket against Hunt's TiQuez Taylor during a February game at Hunt, returns as leader of the Firebirds backcourt for the 2021 season.

Jermia Walker (4) of Southern Nash, driving to the basket during a January 2020 game against Hunt, enters her sophomore season with the intent of keeping the Ladybirds' improvement alive against 3-A Big East Conference opposition.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Jermia Walker (4) of Southern Nash, driving to the basket during a January 2020 game against Hunt, enters her sophomore season with the intent of keeping the Ladybirds' improvement alive against 3-A Big East Conference opposition.

Southern Nash's Chason Royal, driving to the basket against Hunt's TiQuez Taylor during a February  game at Hunt, returns as leader of the Firebirds backcourt for the 2021 season.

File photo

Southern Nash's Chason Royal, driving to the basket against Hunt's TiQuez Taylor during a February game at Hunt, returns as leader of the Firebirds backcourt for the 2021 season.

2021 ROSTERS

Boys
Greyson Curtis    G    Jr.
Zyshone Pearce    G    Jr.
T.J. Tabron        G    Jr.
Sammy Gandy    G    Jr.
Landen Baker    F    So.
Lelyn Herndon    G    Sr.
Leo Jones        G    Jr.
Chason Royal    G    Sr.
Darin Bailey        G    Sr.
Jackson Vick        G    Jr.
Kahari Caudle    F    Jr.
Dashon Pitts        F    Jr.


Girls
Jermia Walker    5-3    G    So.
Brooke Lucas    5-6    G    Sr.
Darielle Whitley    5-6    G    So.
Maya Smith        5-9    C    Sr.
Dahlia Romero    5-6    F    Jr.
Kaylin Younes    5-7    G/F    Jr.
Tabitha Tomaszweski    5-10    C    Fr.
Mara Kennedy    5-6    F    Fr.
McKenzie Kennedy    5-6    F    Fr.
Lillian Clark    5-8    F/C    Jr.
McKenna Batten    5-5    G    So.
Christazia Jones    5-6    F    So.

2021 SCHEDULE

DATE  | OPPONENT
Jan. 19    Fike*
Jan. 22    Northern Nash*
Jan. 26    at Hunt*
Jan. 29    at Rocky Mount*
Feb. 2        vs. Franklinton*
Feb. 5        at Fike*
Feb. 9        at Northern Nash*
Feb. 12    vs. Hunt*
Feb. 16    vs. Rocky Mount*
Feb. 19    at Franklinton*

*3-A Big East Conference game

jlewis@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7807 | Twitter: @JimmyLewisWT

When basketball teams from Southern Nash High take the floor this season, they will do so with a schedule that’s reduced even further from the maximum 14-game slate put forth by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

Originally set to open the 2021 season Tuesday against Cleveland, the Firebirds will have to wait until Jan. 19 and the start of 3-A Big East Conference play after Nash County Schools opted to scratch the balance of nonconference schedules across the system in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Ladybirds of head coach Jordan Bass are in quarantine through Monday after a player showed symptoms of the virus.

Once tipoff does occur, Robbie Kennedy’s Firebirds expect to utilize a junior-heavy roster that will once again revolve around its guard play. Coming off a 7-14 season that saw Southern Nash finish last in Big East play, the Firebirds were involved in seven games decided by two possessions or fewer, with free-throw shooting serving as the culprit in those close losses.

A prolonged struggle for the Ladybirds started to yield fruit in 2019-20. Southern Nash, which won a postseason game at Cameron Union Pines, won 10 games and put forth its best Big East showing in some time with a 5-5 record, brings back its catalyst in sophomore point guard Jermia Walker and will add improved outside shooting.

PAUSE BUTTON HIT

But first, a Southern Nash team that intends to climb out of the Big East’s basement this season must wait while some of its neighbors in surrounding counties take the floor.

“Our (COVID) county rate is pretty high,” Kennedy said in a telephone interview. “Our girls team is in a quarantine right now, so we’re just going to practice until conference starts. That’s what’s disappointing — I think we’ve got a chance to be pretty decent.”

Eight of 12 players for Southern Nash are juniors, with senior Chason Royal returning to lead the backcourt for the Firebirds. Additional experience is back in the form of juniors T.J. Tabron and Jackson Vick. 

Southern Nash plans to spread the floor with its guards and create driving lanes to the basket around a singular post player at times. Sophomore forward Landen Baker has drawn praise for his inside game to complement the slashing nature of the Firebirds’ guards and is a likely starter in the post. A man-to-man defensive approach will be the preference, provided Southern Nash can evade foul trouble. Senior guard Darin Bailey was the first player off the bench last season and is in line for an expanded role in 2021.

“We’re going to try to spread people out,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got some pretty athletic guys, so we’re going to try to spread people out and try to drive on them.” 

A collection of similar-sized guards will revolve around Baker and junior Dashon Pitts, giving the Firebirds primarily a four-out offense.

“We’re going to play four around one, kind of like what we did two years ago when we had Darius (Edmundson),” Kennedy said. “We’re going to try to spread people and drive them hard, even if they’re playing zone. We’re going to need Chason to make open shots.”

Junior Zyshone Pierce, up from the junior varsity ranks, joins the collection of Southern Nash guards and owns a capable jump shot.

However, with a guard-oriented offense comes the responsibility of protecting the basketball and making free throws to preserve the lead late. The Firebirds did it masterfully with Edmundson two years ago in a 16-10 campaign that reached the third round of the postseason, but the lack of consistency in 2019-20 from the foul line played a big role in last year’s struggles.

“We were 7-14,” Kennedy reflected. “We lost to Fike twice and missed over 20 free throws both games. We lost to Rocky Mount in overtime and lost to Franklinton by four. We had a four-point lead on Hunt with three minutes left in the game. We just had a hard time finishing, and a lot of that had to do with free-throw shooting.”

On the inside, Baker provides a physical presence to complement the guards on the perimeter. Pitts, who served as Southern Nash’s center at the junior varsity level, has a battery of post moves at his disposal.

“Neither one of them are real tall,” Kennedy said of his interior players. “But they’re big kids, they can move. If we can get 10 (points) and 10 (rebounds) from them combined or like 12 and 10 from them two, that’s what we’re looking for. The biggest thing with them is being able to make layups, make free throws and rebound.”

Yet the Firebirds’ improved talent must wait to see exactly how much ground it can make up in the Big East standings.

“I think our kids want to play,” Kennedy said. “I think they’re going to be upset a little bit (Monday) when we talk to them, but I’m going to try to explain to them that they’re not the only ones. If you look at college, Duke hasn’t played in like two weeks. It is what is is, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We just need to get focused and do the best we can with our 10 conference games and hope we can take care of some business.”

LADYBIRDS ON HOLD

Once his team is able to take the floor, Bass expects he’ll have the best collection of shooters he’s had in his time at the helm of the Southern Nash program.

There will be a dropoff in size with the departure of 6-foot center Jalisa Williams, but the Ladybirds plan to offset that with quickness and a perimeter punch that was lacking even with the strides shown during the 2019-20 season.

It will still begin with sophomore point guard Jermia Walker, who took Southern Nash girls basketball on its own version of a magical mystery tour last season. A team that’s simply struggled to compete, particularly against Big East opposition, found a way forward with Walker’s quickness and playmaking ability. In addition to winning a playoff game, Southern Nash engineered an upset of a 20-win Hunt team that reached the NCHSAA 3-A quarterfinals.

“She definitely changed our program the second she stepped on the court really,” Bass said of Walker. “We hadn’t really had that point guard that can create and get to the basket, and that’s what she brings.”

Perimeter punch will be added by senior Brooke Lucas and sophomore Darielle Whitley. The inside duties will fall to 5-9 senior center Maya Smith. Lucas, at shooting guard, returns as a starter. Whitley has displayed the best shooting touch on the roster in preseason. Junior small forward Dahlia Romero joins the varsity ranks after leading the JV ranks in scoring, giving the Ladybirds a reliable option with the jumper at the second level.

“We can put a team on the court where really all five girls can score,” Bass said. “In the past, we would really be depending on two or three girls to be scoring.”

Freshman Tabatha Tomaszewski, a solid net presence for the Southern Nash volleyball team, is a new face who can provide length and toughness inside and was in line to play varsity minutes. A seven- to eight-player rotation is expected, but depth for a varsity and junior varsity program has taken a hit with transportation issues brought forth by COVID-19 and a virtual learning format. As such, there will be no JV team on the girls side.

Junior Kaylin Younes plans to figure into the rotation with her on-court savvy and use of the mid-range game, while capable of playing multiple positions.

Bass, who missed the first eight practices due to his own quarantine period, still sees his group as one that can defeat any Big East opponent on a given night.

“I do expect us to definitely be competitive,” he said. “We’ll have more girls who will have a chance to score and we should be able to shoot from the outside better. We should definitely be competitive again this year and really, in my opinion, have a chance to beat anyone in the conference.”

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