The area’s girls basketball programs are going to knock each other around a good bit in the next six weeks.
Many of them are also playing top-notch non-region schedules that will likely lead to their share of lumps along the way. Because of it, if any of them are going to make a significant rise this winter, it may not be until after the calendar flips to 2020.
“We may get beat up on, but we’re in an excellent region,” Myrtle Beach coach Jennifer Dennison said. “We will be ready in January.”
Dennison’s team, for the first time in a while, did not find itself among the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association preseason rankings. In itself, that wasn’t so much of a shock given what the Seahawks lost after last year’s run to the Class 4A lower state championship game.
However, the SCBA didn’t exactly look too fondly upon the area as a whole, either.
North Myrtle Beach (No. 5 in Class 4A) and Carolina Forest (No. 10, Class 5A) were the lone two Horry County teams who found themselves getting much preseason love. Some of that was to be expected. In addition to Myrtle Beach’s losses, Socastee also has significant graduation-based depletions after winning its first region title in 16 seasons. Green Sea Floyds, one of Class 1A’s better teams over the last five seasons, will be giving it a go without Jalinda Johnson. Loris, which won 14 games last year, lost its two best players.
Altogether, the overall expectations are a bit down.
That isn’t stopping many of the programs from believing major strides are in the works. That goes for teams that are carrying success over from a year ago.
“We should win our region and go way deeper into the playoffs than we did last year,” said Carolina Forest’s Stacy Hughes, whose team is the early Region VI-5A favorite. “We’ve got great teams in the lower state. We’re going to see where we fare with some of these best teams in the state. We’re using this like this is the standard. We should be at least there. Well, we’re ranked No. 10 in the state. We better play like that.”
Said North Myrtle Beach’s Brooke Smith: “It is a major goal to give these special group of seniors a great last ride. This is one of first groups I coached since middle school.”
Here’s a snapshot of each team:
AYNOR BLUE JACKETS
Coach | Daniel Pfister
Last year | 2-18, missed Class 3A playoffs
Players to watch | G Peyton Rabon, G Shakyra Moultrie
About the team | Pfister, the first-year coach, is putting small goals in place — including a .500 finish in non-region games and a bump up from last in the region. With a couple additions, some improvement is very much possible for the long-struggling program.
CAROLINA FOREST PANTHERS
Coach | Stacy Hughes
Last year | 15-12, lost in second round of Class 5A playoffs
Players to watch | F Carly Skolsky (13.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), G Gabby Giracello (7.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.3 apg)
About the team | Hughes believes Carolina Forest should be considered the favorite for the Region VI-5A crown a year after finishing second to Socastee. However, she’s also quick to point out that her team will need more offense to make that happen.
Coach | Tymesha Hosch
Last year | 1-20, missed Class 5A playoffs
Players to watch | G/F Ayonna Ingram (5.8 ppg), G Tiashia Wall (5.4 ppg)
About the team | If there was a singular glaring problem last year for the Tigers, it was a serious lack of offense. Conway was held to 15 points or fewer five times and averaged fewer than 25 per game overall. Improving upon that has to be the team’s focus.
GREEN SEA FLOYDS TROJANS
Coach | Tracy Kienast
Last year | 14-11, lost in second round of Class 1A playoffs
Players to watch | F Keyonna Ridges, F Breionna Gore
About the team | Ridges should pick up a bunch of the scoring slack left behind by Jalinda Johnson’s graduation. However, the Trojans and Kienast are also going to be looking to a whole bunch of first- and second-year players.
Coach | Douglas Gause
Last year | 14-9, lost in first round of Class 3A playoffs
Players to watch | F/C Ari’Yanna Hayes (7.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg), G Corteria Chestnut (6.4 ppg, 2.8 apg)
About the team | With 13 players with varsity experience returning, Loris should stay in the top half of the region. Challenging Dillon for the top spot may be too big of an ask, but getting back to the playoffs is starting to become the norm again.
MYRTLE BEACH SEAHAWKS
Coach | Jennifer Dennison
Last year | 21-7, lost in Class 4A lower state finals
Players to watch | G Fatima Alston, G Starashia Alson
About the team | The losses of Asia Smith and Ajia Kelly are going to be felt, as those two players were the leaders who pushed the Seahawks into the fourth round of the playoffs last year.
However, the cupboard is never bare at Myrtle Beach.
NORTH MYRTLE BEACH CHIEFS
Coach | Brooke Smith
Last year | 19-6, lost in first round of Class 4A playoffs
Players to watch | F Jordan Berger, F Daveona Hatchell
About the team | Behind Berger, a two-time all-region selection, and Hatchell, a three-year starter, the Chiefs will have every chance to challenge Wilson for region supremacy and should be in line for another home playoff game.
Coach | Kelly Lewis
Last year | 15-8, lost in second round of Class 5A playoffs
Players to watch | G Mariah Leinbach (6 ppg, 4 rpg), G/F Olivia Schuller (transfer)
About the team | A disappointing playoff showing couldn’t spoil Socastee’s first region championship since 2003 last season. But to repeat the feat, the Braves are going to have to lean on a whole bunch of new faces.
ST. JAMES SHARKS
Coach | Paul Huckado
Last year | 13-11, lost in first round of Class 5A playoffs
Players to watch | G Jenna Mackiewicz, F Katie Keys
About the team | Huckado saw his team make some serious strides in year two of his command last winter, those 13 wins more than doubling the total from his first season. Six seniors could lead to more improvement this time around.