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Girls basketball: Patriots to lean on experience

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After making the semifinals of the State Tournament the last two years and three times since he took over the George Washington girls basketball program in 2004, Jamie LaMaster feels like this is a make-it-or-break-it year for his Patriots.

"We return seven players including three starters," LaMaster said. "This is the most four-year seniors I've ever had."

Those are shooting guard Rachel Ward, post players Eva Roberts and Leslie Gilmore and guard Kayla Stewart. Ward is also one of the trio of starters returning from last season's 17-10 team that sputtered mid-season but took off down the stretch.

The other starters back are junior post player Kelli Harrison and sophomore point guard Alana Mobayed.

"Of course, we lost a big inside presence in Alexa Peoples," LaMaster said. "And we lost Adrian Cunningham, who did a little bit of everything."

Peoples led the squad averaging 14.1 points and 9.2 rebounds.

A Class AA All-State player at Poca, Cunningham transferred to GW when the Dots program folded in December. She averaged 9.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.2 steals during her time with the Patriots.

LaMaster, though, prefers to look ahead.

"Consistency is what I am looking for now," he said. "Of course we would like to take it one step further and play on Saturday night this year."

The 6-foot Harrison will be expected to take over much of the scoring and rebounding load inside after averaging 12 points and eight rebounds a year ago. Ward averaged 12.8 points and 2.3 assists last season, while Mobayed averaged 5.3 points and 3.6 assists.

All of those returning players have been to either one or two state tournaments.

"It's good they have that experience," LaMaster said.

He looks for there to be 18 to 20 players on the roster by the time the soccer players who just finished their season come out.

The final two spots in the starting lineup have not been determined yet and some of who plays "will be dictated by who we are playing," LaMaster said.

"Sometimes it will be based on what we are doing well."

Roberts, Gilmore, or maybe sophomore Lilly Ash may be in the game when the Patriots want to "go big" while Stewart and her sophomore sister, Hailey, could be in against zone defenses or when GW presses.

"Kayla can knock it down against a zone," LaMaster said. "Eva and Leslie or Lilly and Eva or Leslie could be in together sometimes when we want to pound the ball inside."

The Patriots' non-conference schedule is pretty tough with defending state champion Greenbrier East, last year's Class AAA runner-up Bridgeport, and perennial power Parkersburg South listed. There is also the home opener against returning state tournament qualifier Wheeling Park just over the horizon on Dec. 8.

"We'll find out real quick how good this team is going to be," LaMaster said. "They looked real good in summer league games and have looked good this fall and in practice, but you can't tell what you've got until the games really count."

What he hopes to have is a free courtside seat for the final game of this season's State Tournament.


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