By Rocky Higginbotham
Winston County Journal
Nanih Waiya’s girls’ basketball team put together quite a run during the 2015-16 campaign.
The Lady Warriors reeled off 24 victories, won a district championship and advanced all the way to the “Elite Eight” in the Class 1A state tournament before falling to Shaw at Jackson State University.
So, with eight seniors on that squad, one might expect there to be a major drop-off with this year’s Nanih Waiya bunch. But as ESPN college football personality Lee Corso says: “Not so fast, my friend.”
“I am really excited about this year’s team and I expect us to be pretty good,” Nanih Waiya coach Jaimee Childs said. “We’re going to have a young team, but one with some good leadership at the same time.”
Nanih Waiya graduated eight seniors from the 2015-16 squad and is having to replace seven of its top eight scorers from a year ago.
But the one in that bunch the Lady Warriors don’t have to replace is a good one, and she’s getting some unexpected help.
“I’ve only got one senior who has been with the program since junior high, but I’ve got five seniors in all,” Childs said. “Some who had played before who have come back because they love the game and some good athletes who haven’t played as much. I’m excited about them returning.”
Gone from last year’s team is leading scorer Ashlie Thames, who had a well-rounded stat line by averaging 14.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 5.1 steals per game as Nanih Waiya finished 24-5.
Also gone are seniors Krysten Eaves, Marlee Parks, Kenley McMullan and Mackenzie Johnson – all of whom averaged between 5.2 and 6.5 points per game.
“I think that was one of the things that helped us so much last year was that we were so balanced,” Childs said. “You couldn’t really concentrate on just trying to stop one person. We shot the ball really well and we had good ball-handlers.”
Eaves also averaged 4.9 rebounds per game, Parks averaged a couple of steals per game, Johnson averaged 3.1 steals and 2.6 assists, McMullan averaged 1.7 assists and Rebecca Stokes averaged 4.7 boards.
They’re all gone, but junior Hope Thames and senior Essence Strickland are both back. Hope Thames averaged 8.8 points per game and led the team with 5.5 boards per contest last year, while Strickland is the senior with the most experience.
The other four seniors are Makinsie Clark, Morgan Luke, Precious Gale and Madison Alford.
Juniors are Hope Thames, Livi Bush, Bree Tubby, Holly Dinsmore and Ashley Higginbotham.
Lexy Bush, T.J. Redhouse and Hanna Higginbotham are the team’s sophomores, while freshmen Lindsey Mills and Dakota Strait round out the squad.
Thus far, the Lady Warriors have played just one game – a 68-56 loss to Class 2A Union last Tuesday. With the success of the Nanih Waiya football team, a number of early-season matchups have already been postponed or canceled. At press time, the Lady Warriors’ next scheduled action was set for Nov. 29 at Ethel, but that was tentative.
“It’s been hard for us to get games,” Childs said. “It is a rebuilding process … so we do need to play to get better.”
In the loss to Union, Nanih Waiya got 25 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and six steals from Hope Thames.
Strickland hit three 3-pointers and finished with 15 points, five rebounds and three assists; Hanna Higginbotham had six points and four steals; and Livi Bush handed out three assists and had a couple of steals.