(Brad Davis/The Register-Herald) Woodrow Wilson's Laken Ball drives and scores as George Washington's Lauren Harmison defends Jan. 10 in Beckley.

For many, North-South week marks the end of the athletic careers of many of the state’s finest players.

For the Region 3 athletes selected to play in the North-South Girls Basketball Classic, it only makes the end of their high school careers.

Area athletes Jazz Blankenship (Wyoming East), Erica Merrill (Summers County), Laken Ball (Woodrow Wilson) and Autumn Spangler (Bluefield) will represent the South today at East Fairmont High School. A skills competition will be held at 2:30 p.m., with the game tipping off at 4 p.m.

Among the four area selections were 11 state tournament appearances, with each player making an appearance in Charleston at least once.

Starting with Blankenship, the Wyoming East sharpshooter concluded her career with three all-state selections, being named a first-teamer in 2017 and 2019. During her time in New Richmond she helped lead the Lady Warriors to the Class AA title game in 2016, 2018 and 2019, being named to the all-tournament team in the two latter years, playing in 104 straight games throughout her career.

During her senior season, she led Wyoming East in scoring, averaging 17.6 points per game, adding 4.2 assists and 2.7 steals per contest en route to Register-Herald co-Player of the Year. Before the season began, Blankenship signed to continue her athletic career at Concord University.

Summers County’s Erica Merrill’s high school career didn’t carry the all-state accolades that some of her peers’ did, but she traded those for wins. Merrill finished her senior season as the only Lady Bobcat to make four straight appearances in the state tournament since 2011. As the lone senior on a young team, Merrill averaged 9.3 ppg to go along with 8.5 rebounds per game.

Following the 2019 state tournament, Merrill signed to play basketball at Potomac State.

Woodrow Wilson’s Laken Ball had a much different career than Merrill and Blankenship, but one that paid off.

Suffering through four-win seasons her freshman and sophomore years, Ball served as a true stretch center for the Lady Flying Eagles, helping the program to its first state tournament appearance in 10 years in 2018, where it lost a close game to No. 2 Parkersburg South. For her efforts, Ball was named to the Class AAA all-state team as a third-team selection. Ball built on the program’s resurgent season, helping it reach the MSAC title game in 2019 for the first time in school history against eventual state champion Parkersburg. 

For her contributions, Ball finished her career with as a second-team all-state selection. Following the season she signed to play at Transylvania University in Kentucky.

Rounding out the area selections is Bluefield’s Autumn Spangler, who helped usher in the most successful era of is program history. As a sophomore, Spangler helped lead Bluefield to the state tournament for the first time in program history as the Lady Beavers upset defending state champion Wyoming East in the Region 2 co-final, making a run at the Class AA title game in 2017 before falling to Fairmont Senior. She added to her legacy in 2018, helping Bluefield back to the state tournament in 2018, where it lost to No. 1 North Marion on a controversial call at the end of the game. The performance that season earned Spangler all-state honors as she served as captain of the third-team.

Spangler concluded her high school career this year with a loss to Fairmont Senior, but signed to continue playing at Bluefield State.

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


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