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Girls basketball: Wood is the cornerstone of Riverside's improvement

By Chris Humphrey

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If there is anything Riverside Coach Scott Garretson wants to see out of his team, it is improvement.

Coming off a 7-18 season, he is counting on experience and leadership to get his girls basketball team over the hump.

"I'm excited about it," he said. "We have a lot of returning players. It's pretty much last year's team now back with a year of experience or two. I feel like I don't want to say it's now or never, but with this group of kids, is their time to make a little bit of noise.

"I think if we have games like last year - we were close in a lot - I think if we make some improvements and shoot a little bit better, we'll win some of those games this year."

The returning players from last season will give Riverside a tentative starting lineup of four seniors -- Kara Knapp, Rachael Mills, Sheree Harris and LaMontica Burger -- and junior Brittany Wood.

Wood averaged 16.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per game for the Warriors last season.

"Wood is our returning All-County player," Garretson said. "She was third team All-State. I expect her to pick up where she left off. She's got all the tools."

The rest of the lineup has some tools as well.

"Kara has gotten a million time better, and Rachel will give you 20 (points) a night," Garretson said. "LaMonitca will step up and dominate a game. She's also like a 6-foot post player. She has her moments. Sheree is very athletic. They all have their strengths. Bring them all together on the same night and make some shots and play some defense, I think we can compete with anybody."

With the returning experience on the floor for Garretson, the Warriors will use that to turn close losses last season into wins this season.

"Those seven (wins) could have been 11 or 12 with just a few more shots fired," he said. "I expect this year to win those games. I don't want to throw a number out there; that's not a wise thing to do. But I'm expecting to improve on our winning percentage of last year.

"There's no reason not to be. We have everybody back and they've all been through the wars and learned and they've all gotten better."

Garretson said the team has shown improvement in practice, but the first test will come Thursday when the Lady Warriors host Elk Valley Christian.

"I'm looking forward to playing somebody," he said. "We have the same group of girls back and I'm anxious to see if they have improved. You can tell if you've improved even if you don't win as many games but at the same time it's almost like you got to get those wins to confirm it and I expect to do that this year."

Garretson's bench shows potential as well. Rachel Daw and Julie Bishop are the two best coming off the bench, and sophomore McKenzie Hudnall can expect to play some at the varsity level. Meanwhile, freshman Ashley Hancock is proving her athletic prowess in practice.

"I think she has a lot of potential but I'm not sure how quickly we can integrate her into the first few players," Garretson said of Hancock. "Potential for sure. She's a scrapper. She was a really good soccer player this year at varsity. You can see that. She's quick and always around the ball."

Garretson said the conference is tough, but he does see some matchups where the Lady Warriors can be competitive. Others might be more challenging.

"We pretty much know who they are," he said of the opponents. "They're all good, but I see some teams on here we can take a run at."

"With seven wins (last season) and having everybody back," Garretson added about his team, "They have to be better, they can't get worse."


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