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KERSHAW – The AJ Lady Vols hope experience leads to a banner hoops campaign this season, while the AJ boys are bidding to overcome youth.
The 2013-14 Andrew Jackson Lady Vols are the preseason pick of the Region IV-AA coaches to capture the league title.
Veteran AJ girls coach Dennis Farmer likes the experience he has returning, but will be searching for an inside game.
“We have a lot of experience returning and we can shoot the ball pretty well,” said Farmer, “We lost all-state Bre Wright and veteran player Halle Thompson to graduation.”
Wright scored over 1,000 points in her career at AJ and signed to play college basketball.
“We have a good nucleus returning,” added Farmer, who earned region coach of the year honor last season.
Seniors Dareisha Sowell and McKenzie Horton, along with sophomores Elizabeth Scott and Summer Vick provide plenty of experience and firepower for the Lady Vols, 2-0 on the young season.
“Right now, McKenzie Horton is playing the post for us,” said Farmer. “She can step out and shoot the three.”
Horton, who averaged 5.6 points and 6.6 rebounds last season, reaped the Lady Vols Award last season.
Sowell, who earned the Defensive Player of the Year Award last season, also surpassed the 1,000-point mark last year for the Lady Vols in the last regular season game. An all-region pick, she averaged 12.9 points and 2.9 rebounds an outing last season when AJ finished 16-5 and tied for the regular-season region title.
Farmer can count on Scott to utilize her dead-eye shooting at the foul line to aid AJ.
“Elizabeth Scott is a fourth-year player and is only a sophomore,” noted Farmer. “She can certainly shoot the trey, but also can get to the foul line.”
Scott, AJ’s Offensive Player of the Year, averaged 14.1 points and 8.1 rebounds a game last season.
“Summer Vick gets after it and also can dial it up from three-point land,” added Farmer.
Vick averaged four points a game last season, but that number will likely increase with more playing time this season.
“Senior Anslee McDow supplies valuable inside help,” said Farmer. “ She does not back down from anyone.”
McDow, who averaged 6.5 rebounds a game last season, earned AJ’s Super Sub Award last winter.
Sophomores Brantley Ussery and Mary Kelsie Broughton are tenacious defenders who also can score.
Senior Ananda Cloud and junior Markeera McIlwain provide quality depth for the Lady Vols .
Sophomore Jerista Crawford and junior Hailey Burton are up from the AJ junior varsity and will see extended minutes.
“We have played a tough preseason schedule and will play a tough out-of-conference schedule,” said Farmer. “We were one and done in the playoffs last year. We know the road to the state championship will go through Columbia.
“I believe if we play well, we can play with anybody,” said Farmer. “I’m optimistic.”
Farmer is assisted by Kelly Phillips, Jonathan Scott and Derek Vick.
The Andrew Jackson boys are an inverse of the Lady Vols. The Vols are young and for the most part inexperienced.
AJ coach Danny Wright said he likes what he sees in the young Vols. In fact, the motto is “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
“I’m excited about our team,” said Wright. “Even though we are young and inexperienced for the most part, I like our effort.”
Returning starters include senior guard Cameron McIsaac, senior shooting guard Dustin Eddins and senior center Tray King.
McIsaac earned the team’s Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Eddins averaged 10.2 points per game a year ago and McIssac hit 6.7 points and averaged 3.6 rebounds a game.
“This group of guys is like a big family,” said Wright. “They work well together as a team.”
“We may not be the fastest or tallest, but we will out-hustle just about anyone,” said Wright. “If we are giving a 110 percent, then I am satisfied.”
Sophomore Corey Walters is a sharpshooter who can crack the starting lineup.
Sophomore Luke Sowell will log significant minutes at the power forward slot.
Senior Gervais Cantey will be counted on to play in the post when needed.
Junior Austin Truesdale can also play in the paint or power forward.
Senior Tanner McIsaac will see action at the small forward position, while the versatile D.J. Hagins, with his deft shooting touch, can play guard or small forward.
Eighth grader Dontarius James, at 6-6, is injured, but should be able to contribute at the small forward slot by the Christmas tournament.
Also available for quality depth are senior Jacob Ware and sophomore Tyreek Martin.
“We will work hard and give effort all season long,” said Wright. “Cheraw is the preseason favorite, followed by Indian Land, Chesterfield, AJ, Buford and Central.”
The AJ Christmas tournament is set for Dec. 27-28.
Wright is assisted by Chad Burgess, Daniel Wright and Calvin McClinton.