The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 18, 2013

Tough tests await Westside girls

Defending Class AA champs will face three ranked teams next week

Through its first 12 games, Westside’s defending Class AA state champion girls basketball team has rarely been tested.

The Renegades have won all 12 of their games by an average score of 73-30. Their only close matchup was a 41-30 victory at Nicholas County.

But now the road gets a lot tougher.

Westside plays four games next week, including three against ranked AA teams. Then it will compete in the Big Atlantic Classic, possibly against the two top teams in Class AAA.

“The toughest part of our schedule is coming up,” coach Jamie Lusk said. “There are going to be some dogfights.”

The Renegades play at Independence Monday, then travel to No. 15 Scott Wednesday for a rematch of last year’s AA state championship game.

They’ll play No. 5 Nicholas again on Friday before heading to Hinton Saturday to meet No. 4 Summers County, the team that had won five consecutive state championships before the Renegades eliminated them in the regionals last year.

The earlier Nicholas game was nip and tuck from the outset, before Westside pulled away late.

“They’re big and talented,” Lusk said. “Somebody had to step up, and Danielle Brown scored 15 or 16 points.

“Teams are trying to stop Hope Lester, and other girls are stepping up. That’s a big reason for our success this season.”

Lester, a first-team all-stater last year as a freshman, is averaging 17.4 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks at center. Junior forward Megan Endicott adds nine points and eight rebounds.

Three-guard Faith Davis is the team’s penetrator and is an excellent foul shooter. She averages 13 points a game.

Brown checks in at 11 ppg, and has 26 3-point goals.

Morgan Spolarich moved from the 3-guard to the point this season and is averaging nine points and eight assists.

“Morgan has adapted her game to make our team better,” Lusk said. “She’s running the point well, and teams are having trouble pressing us because of her.”

Other key players include reserve pivots Kristin Hash (6 points, 4 assists) and McKenzie Endicott (3 ppg) and guards Hope Davis (4 ppg, 2 assists) and Laken Walker (11 3-pointers).

While Westside handily defeated Scott (50-31) at Madison and Summers (65-32) at Clear Fork, Lusk is taking nothing for granted against the fellow Class AA powers.

“They’re always a tough matchup,” he said. “They’re teams we’ve battled before in the tournaments, and our fans like to see us play both schools. They’re fun games to be part of.”

It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire at the Big Atlantic Classic at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center. Westside will face Class AAA No. 2 University (8-4) at 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31.

Should the Renegades win, they’ll face the winner of Thursday’s other upper-bracket semifinal between AAA No. 1 Greenbrier East and St. Albans. That game is at 5:40 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2.

“This is what we want,” Lusk said. “The winning streak (40-0 going back to last year’s perfect 28-0 slate) is good, but trying to get ready for the (postseason) is the important thing.

“It will be neat for us to play a team from up north like University, and if we can play Greenbrier East, it will be fun.”

The Spartans are the defending Class AAA state champions, winning their first title since 1981 last March.

“They’re like us. They play hard,” Lusk said. “They’re well-coached by Jim Justice.

“We’ve got to keep working hard and doing what we’re doing. Defensively, we’re playing the best I’ve seen our teams play.”

— E-mail: dstillwell

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