Girls basketball: GW's Ward tops All-Kanawha Valley team
There were two dominant stories in area high school girls basketball this season - the emergence of a large group of young players.
Another was George Washington.
Not to take anything away from Capital's miraculous advancement to this week's State Tournament, but until last Thursday the season, at least in Kanawha and Putnam counties, belonged to the Patriots.
George Washington came a game short of making a third consecutive State Tournament appearance. However, the Patriots were the only team in the Kanawha Valley to finish ranked in the top 10 in the Associated Press poll and, at 16-9, had the best record.
None of which would have been possible without senior guard Rachel Ward.
"Without her we win maybe half as many games," George Washington Coach Jamie LaMaster said. "She was our leading scorer and our leader in practice and on the court."
Ward is also this year's Daily Mail Kanawha Valley Player of the Year.
Besides leading the Patriots in scoring, the 5-foot-4 Ward was often assigned to the opposition's top scorer, and more often than not, held them in check.
She was always a threat whether hitting from 3-point range or driving the lane. Against Nitro this season, she had a career-high 40 points.
Ward finished her career with 1,205 points and hit 76 shots from beyond the arc.
"She was the most consistent 3-point shooter I've had," LaMaster said. "She also developed a great transition game and, when we needed to, we could move her over to point guard because she had great ball-handling skills."
Ward was a third-team selection last year and came into her own with the graduation of former George Washington standout Alexa Peoples and Adrian Cunningham, who also starred at Poca before transferring to GW midway through her senior season.
"We did not need her to do as much in the past," said LaMaster, who just completed his ninth season coaching the Patriots. "But Rachel has always been willing and able to do whatever we needed her to."
Joining her on the first team is teammate Kelli Jo Harrison. The 6-1 junior began her career as a spot-up outside shooter, but became increasingly tougher in the paint this past season, culminating in a 30-point, 16-rebound effort in a 71-66 los to Princeton in a Class AAA Region 3 co-final loss last week.
Harrison passed the 1,000-point mark for her career in that game.
After the George Washington teammates, the underclassmen pretty much take over as the last three spots on the first team go to sophomores. They are Hurricane's Abby Watson, Riverside's Brittany Wood and Nitro's Savannah Shamblin.
Each brings something different to the table.
Watson is a 5-10 wing player who scores, rebounds, brings the ball up against presses and anything else that is needed.
The 6-1 Wood is a dominant post player who not only scores and rebounds, but blocks shots with such frequency that few opposing players challenge her in the lane.
The 5-3 Shamblin is a scoring point guard who breaks opposing presses with ease and can score from almost anywhere on the floor.
The youth trend continues on the second and third teams with three freshmen and three sophomores filling six of 10 spots.
The Freshman of the Year is Sissonville point guard Madison Jones.
Jones barely edged out teammate Karli Pinkerton and St. Albans point guard Torri Wilson for the honor.
The Coach of the Year goes to Scott James of St. Albans.
James, who is in his 10th year guiding the Red Dragons, had a team with no seniors that had lost several key players from the previous year.
He took that young team all the way to a 14-11 record and the Class AAA Region 4 co-final, suffering a 57-46 loss to Logan, which seeded fifth in this week's field at the State Tournament.