A season for the ages

Register-Herald file photoSummers County's Candace Brown (23) averaged a nation-leading 36.6 points per game as a senior in 2012. Longtime Summers County coach Wayne Ryan called it "probably the best individual season a player has had in program history."

Record after record crumbled before the Summers County girls basketball program in 2011.

Consecutive championships for a girls program? Summers set the new standard with five straight.

Longest winning streak in state history? The Lady Bobcats established a new record that reached 105 consecutive victories.

While all of those feats were team achievements, individual ones were plenty with numerous all-staters, though the best was yet to come.

Entering the 2011-12 season, the Lady Bobcats carried the weight and expectations of those accomplishments. Fulfilling them wouldn't be an easy task. 

After the graduation of four starters, it was up to senior Candace Brown to shoulder the load. She answered the call without hesitation.

By the end of a season that saw Summers' state championship and win streak come to an end, there was a new remarkable achievement to discuss — a campaign in which Brown averaged a nation-leading 36.6 points per game to go along with 11.7 rebounds and 7.1 steals per contest.

"There are a lot of great candidates, but that's probably the best individual season a player has had in program history," former Summers County head coach Wayne Ryan said. "I believe her statistics on both sides of the ball probably support that. I say it all the time, but I don't think we've ever put a saddle on a player the way we did Candace that year."

The saddle was necessary and Brown answered the call night in and night out.

In addition to losing the four seniors, several other bench players who were expected to fill those voids either suffered injuries or elected not to play. By the end of the season, Brown was supplemented largely by JV players who had to step into action before they were ready. 

"You don't plan on having a season like that, but I knew my senior year was going to be different because we lost a lot of talented players, so I had to play a certain role," Brown said.

For Brown it was new territory, but one she knew she could conquer.

In the 2011 Class AA title game, several of her teammates ended up in early foul trouble, forcing her to shoulder the load for the Lady Bobcats. She responded by scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in an 81-43 win.

"I felt like that was the point when I knew I could do that," Brown said. "We found ourselves in a lot of foul trouble early so I knew I had to step up until we weren't in foul trouble. Eventually we just pulled away and I ended up playing really well."

Brown built off that performance, opening her senior season with a 29-point showing against Bluefield and kept rolling from there. She produced back-to-back 34-point performances, followed by 37 against Webster County before she erupted with 46 against Clay County. A modest 28-point showing against Nicholas County brought her back to Earth by her standards that year before Chapmanville felt the wrath of another 46-point outburst.

"It wasn't a surprise," Ryan said. "She was always an exceptional athlete. She played a tremendous role for us for three years and was largely overlooked because of the great girls around her. She was second-team all-state her junior year and I don't believe there were even five players better than her that year."

In the moment Brown rarely stopped to think about what she was in the midst of, moreso focusing on the team's goals.

"I think there was a point in the middle of the season when the schedule got tougher that I started to think about it," Brown said. "We played the easier part of our schedule early so I knew I'd have the opportunity to score a lot. It put a lot of pressure on me, but it became so normal that I didn't really think about it. It was what was expected so I knew I had to step up to that.

"Looking back on it now, I wish I would've appreciated it more. I was so focused on winning and keeping the tradition going that I didn't appreciate it. I should've taken a moment to do that."

Though there was a lot of pressure on Brown, she managed it just fine.

"Scoring wasn't hard for me," Brown said. "I loved scoring so that came naturally. Before the season I trained with (current Woodrow Wilson head coach) Brian Nabors and he helped me unlock another part of my game. I really learned how to get above the defense and I used that a lot and added to my midrange game. Every game I was facing a box-and-one so I figured out how to score around that."

Though Brown's scoring alone wasn't what made her season special.

She tied her sister Jolysa Brown's single-season rebound record with 294. She was also a nightmare on defense, finishing with double-digit steals in seven games, including a program-record 17 against Greenbrier West. She nabbed the single-season program record of 179 when it was all said and done.

"I hate to make a choice, but she's probably the best defensive player I ever coached," Ryan said. "There are tons of others who make that a tough conversation though. She had lateral movement, could stay between the ball in the basket, you couldn't screen her at all and she could get tight on the ball. She made things easier for our defense as a whole."

The hardest part for Brown wasn't putting up video game numbers every night or meeting the expectations they brought.

"The hardest part was being a leader," Brown said. "I was so used to playing with girls that I played with forever and we just had that chemistry so I didn't have to worry about it. My senior year we had so many younger players who hadn't played before and I wasn't a very vocal person so that was an adjustment for me."

"I think she was always a leader," Ryan said. "She always led with her effort. I think early in the year she realized this was her team and she embraced that. The younger players really looked up to that and we grew with her."

While her leadership abilities grew, so did the numbers on the stat sheets.

Brown scored 46 points three times that season, eventually breaking the single-game record on Jan. 21 against Valley. Playing around just 20 minutes, she poured in 49 points on 21-of-31 shooting to go along with 15 rebounds and 13 steals, toppling another record.

"That's probably the game that stands out to me the most," Brown said. "I remember wanting 50 but being happy with what I had."

"We thought she deserved that," Ryan said. "She came so close to breaking it throughout the year she earned the right to have that record."

Unfortunately, Brown's best efforts weren't always enough.

The Lady Bobcats' 105-game winning streak came to an end against Scott in January. The senior star scored 39 points in the loss, the first of her high school career.

"Honestly, that one devastated me," Brown said. "I wasn't used to losing at all. I don't think I had actually lost a game before that since elementary school, so I had to learn how to deal with losing while still being a leader."

Brown's stellar season continued, with her season-low scoring total coming in at 21 points against Princeton — one of only five times she was held to under 30 points all year long. 

Eventually she became a victim of the injuries that ravaged the team. She suffered from back spasms throughout the year but played through them. Eventually they became too much and the Lady Bobcats fell to eventual state champion Westside in the Region 3 co-final.

"It was so much on my body, but I didn't want to miss anything because it was my senior season," Brown said. "I don't know how I did it. I had a lot of treatment and just played through it. As long as I was able to I did and Coach Ryan took it easier on me that year. He was different than the coach I had my first three years — he put a little less on me and I was appreciative of him for how he helped me."

"I felt sorry for her," Ryan said. "You could tell she was in pain and wasn't herself, but she wanted to play really bad. Even then she was still a great player that led us."

Brown finished the season as the nation's leading scorer and secured her only first-team all-state selection. She finished as the runner-up in the Player of the Year voting to Scott's Makenzie White, a player she had beaten head-to-head in each of the previous state championship games.

Brown set the single-season school scoring record with 914 points, finishing with 1,679 for her entire career. Other single-season records she broke included free throws (300) and field goals (301). She went on to play four years at Gardner-Webb, where she started 101 games.

"I think that last season really prepared me for college and let me know I could play D-I ball," Brown said. "After everything I faced that year, I felt ready for the next step, and honestly it felt a little easier. If I could handle that pressure and stepping into a new role, I could handle almost anything else thrown at me. I really owe Coach Ryan a lot for helping prepare me for the next level."

"She went through a lot that year and always understood what needed to be done," Ryan said. "We could always depend on her and honestly we couldn't have expected anything else from her. That was a great year for a great kid."

Email: tjackson@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @TjackRH

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