The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 24, 2012

Renegades ready to defend title

By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer

— A state championship was a long time coming for Westside’s girls basketball team.

They’re not looking to give it up anytime soon.

“We’ve got 11 girls back from the (Class AA) state championship team,” coach Jamie Lusk said. “It’s looking good right now.”

Westside had misfired in its first three previous state tournament appearances, losing each time in a quarterfinal game.

But last March the talented and deep Renegades  would not be denied. They halted Summers County’s run of five straight Class AA titles in the regional final, and then swept the field at states to complete a 28-0 campaign.

They carry the crown proudly.

“We’re excited about being the defending state champions,” Lusk said. “It’s the first time our school can say that.

“We’ll wear the bullseye. We worked for years and years. It means we’re a good team. We’re excited about the challenge.”

Westside took some hits from graduation, including shooting guard and second-team all-stater Tori Patrick, point guard and third-team all-stater Cheyenna Lusk and dependable forward and defensive specialist Mckinsey Davis.

Nonetheless, the Renegades have a wealth of talent and experience coming back.

The two returning starters, Hope Lester and Morgan Spolarich are expected to be two of the best players in all of Class AA, if not the state.

Lester, a 6-foot center, drew raves for her play in the state tournament in Charleston. In three games she scored 81 points and grabbed 42 rebounds.

Besides completely dominating under the basket, she made steal-after-steal, handled the ball like a guard and even drilled a 3-pointer for good measure.

Only a freshman, she was named to the all-tournament team and was chosen a first-team all-stater.

“Hope is always working hard — from the time the season ended until we started practice, she played another 50 games,” Lusk said. “The season is almost a relief to her because she faces such good competition in AAU ball.

“She’s really improved her quickness, and she’s one of our top shooters. Teams will have to come out on her.”

Spolarich, a senior guard-forward, should come into her own this year as a shooter, yet continue to score four or five baskets a game off steals.

She averaged 10.6 points, 5 steals, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game.

Perimeter players Faith Davis, Danielle Brown and Stephanie Brown, and posts Megan Endicott and Kristen Hash featured prominently last season in Lusk’s rotation.

Each made big contributions in Westside’s 49-46 win over Scott in the championship game.

“My philosophy is you have to play your bench. It always comes back to benefit you in the future,” Lusk said. “Those girls played a lot at the state tournament and got big-game exposure.

“They know how to play. They’ve waited their turn. They’ve played a lot of AAU and summer basketball. I think they’re ready.”

Mackenzie Endicott, Megan’s 6-foot twin sister, is back from an injury that kept her out of the state tournament. An improved Laken Walker adds even more depth at guard.

Lusk likes offense, and he’s given the team the green light to shoot.

“Whet we preach is, if you’re open, take the shot and shoot with confidence,” he said.

The Renegades will start their season Dec. 5 at home against Logan.

— E-mail: dstillwell@register-herald.com