By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Not many teams can lose two all-staters and come back to win 23 games.
Westside did just that.
The Class AA champion Renegades reloaded, and will begin defense of their title at 5:30 p.m. Thursday when they meet PikeView in the state tournament quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center.
“I knew how good the younger girls could be. Last year they put in key minutes at crucial times,” coach Jamie Lusk said. “I’m not surprised they’ve stepped up to the challenge and had a great year.”
Westside (23-1) returned sophomore center and state player of the year candidate Hope Lester, plus guard Morgan Spolarich from last season’s 28-0 squad.
But second-team all-stater Tori Patrick, a 3-point threat, and third-team all-stater Cheyanna Lusk, a sparkplug point guard, graduated. So did rebounder and inside defender Mckinsey Davis.
Their backups, center Megan Endicott and guards Danielle Brown and Faith Davis, took over this year and never missed a beat.
“They stepped into some big shoes, but I’m very happy how they have come into their new roles,” Jamie Lusk said.
Endicott has taken a lot of pressure off Lester, who often draws junk defenses.
She averages 9 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks.
“Megan is our most improved player. She’s scrappy,” Lusk said. “She worked hard over the summer to develop into a good offensive player, and she’s had some 18-point games.”
Brown and Davis have become scoring threats. Brown is averaging 12 points and three steals and has 52 3-point goals.
Davis gives 13 points, 4 assists and 3 steals per game.
“Danielle is one of the best shooters in the state. When she shoots it, you think it will go in each time,” Lusk said. “She’s had major games when teams are double-teaming Hope.
“Faith is our second-leading scorer, but she’s also our best defensive player when it comes to a matchup with the other team’s guard. She’s a lockdown type.”
But as good as Endicott, Brown and Davis are playing, it’s still Lester and Spolarich who make the team go.
Lester proved almost unstoppable under the basket in last year’s state tournament. This year she’s also hitting 3-pointers (24) and driving to the basket.
She averages 18 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocked shots.
“Hope is doing things that last year she didn’t have to do,” Lusk said. “She’s expanded her game a lot. She’s also a really good passer.”
Spolarich, noted for her strong defensive play in the passing lanes, replaced Cheyanna Lusk at point guard. While her numbers have gone down a bit (9 points/7 assists/4 steals), she’s made the team go.”
“Morgan sees and runs the floor well. Teams have trouble pressing us because of her,” Jamie Lusk said. “She’s stepped up and become a leader for this team.”
The Renegades’ bench is a major factor in the team’s success, just as in last season.
Post Kristen Hash (6 points, 4 rebounds) isn’t afraid to get physical under the goal. Mackenzie Endicott, a 6-footer like her twin sister Megan, is the team’s best shot-blocker and averages 4 points and 4 rebounds.
The reserve guards are Hope Davis (3 ppg), a fine defensive player, and Lakyn Walker, who hit a couple of big 3s against Bluefield in the regionals.
Westside has already faced PikeView twice this season, taking 74-34 and 58-28 victories.
Lusk is taking little comfort from that.
“It will be a battle. PikeView knows us and we know them,” he said. “They are very well coached and they play hard. They’re a very good defensive team.
“(All-stater) Hope Nester’s leg is starting to heal and she’s playing better, and her teammates are playing with confidence.”
It’s a tough AA field. Besides Westside and perennial tournament teams PikeView, Clay County and Lincoln, it features four former Class AAA teams — Bridgeport (last year’s AAA runner-up), North Marion (2010-11 state champion), Nicholas County and Fairmont Senior.
“Everybody in the tournament has a chance to win,” Lusk said. “We have to make sure we come ready to play.”
He added that AAA No. 1 Greenbrier East losing to lightly regarded Capital in the regional showed there are no sure things in the postseason.
“That game opened up a lot of teams’ eyes,” Lusk said. “You can’t fall asleep at this time of year. There are no weak teams left.
“That’s what makes tournament time fun. Everybody has a chance. Who’s ready to play?”
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