The Pisgah Bears girls basketball team finished second in the Mountain 7 conference last season. Canton’s team went 19-7 (10-2 in the conference) on its way to the second-place finish in the standings, a co-conference championship with Franklin and a state playoff berth.
“It was a good, hard-fought finish,” said Pisgah head coach Brandon Holloway, named conference co-coach of the year. “It gave our young ones coming back some hunger seeing they could play with those girls. This offseason has probably been as intense as it’s been in a long time.”
Holloway said nearly 40 girls showed up to try out for the varsity and junior varsity squads.
“It allows our program to continue to succeed and continue the tradition,” he said.
That playoff berth led to a first-round 63-54 victory at Kings Mountain before the run ended with a close 56-48 loss to Carson in the second round.
This year’s team brings back its top three players from last season, two of which are still juniors this season.
Junior Dot Mills led the team in scoring (10 points per game) and assists (5.5 per game) last season. She also recorded 4.7 rebounds per game. Mills also shot a team-best 32% from three-point range (32 of 100 attempts).
Junior Alyssa Smith also returns this season, averaging 9.2 points (second on the team) and 3.7 rebounds per game. She also served as the team’s leading three-point shooter last season, shooting 31% on a team-high 162 attempts. Smith was also the top scorer for the team in conference games, scoring an average of 11 points in those contests.
Rounding out the Bears’ big three is senior Chloe Burch. Last season, Burch averaged 8.8 points, 1.8 assists and a team-leading eight rebounds per game. She had the best shooting percentage of players taking at least 60 shots, hitting at a 40% clip.
Senior Maddie Rhea also looks to be a factor this season, coming off a year averaging 4.5 points, 0.6 assists and five rebounds per game.
“This senior group has been a part of three conference championships, two in JV and one in varsity. That’s good leadership. We’ve got a good group that knows what it takes to win, and we’ve got some key juniors coming back. We’ll look for the mixture of the junior and senior class to mix to provide us with another successful season,” Holloway said.
The Lady Bears also plan to get back two injured players this season. Junior Whitney Boone — who started as a freshman — will try to return to form after an ACL tear in her sophomore campaign. Senior Kristi Shuford will also look to battle back after an ankle injury sidelined her last season.
The Bears lost four seniors last season: Emma Deaver. Ashtyn Frady, Alexis Gibson and Gracie Dorlan. The four players accounted for 20 points, 5.4 assists and 14.3 rebounds per game.
“We’re hoping to be able to divide [up the points]; divide and conquer,” Holloway said. “We’re expecting great things from Whitney. Dot is probably as good, if not the best, point guard in this area. The other girls around her have worked on their shooting and scoring abilities. Chloe is returning, picking up right where she left off after an all-conference year last year. She’s been dominant for us on the inside.”
The season opens on Nov. 18 with a home game against Erwin. The first few games of the season are a little spaced out: Game two against Enka comes four days later, then a week until game three against Erwin.
Holloway said the early games would be a good test for the team.
“I love to mix and match and work on our stuff. You want to compete but also see who works best together to start finding your team identity,” Holloway said.
After Erwin, things start to pick up to a more typical Tuesday/Friday schedule for most of the season, with just a few exceptions.
On Dec. 2, the team hits the road for the first time with a game at Mountain Heritage before welcoming them to Canton on Dec. 6.
Then, on Dec. 9, conference play opens up with a trip to Smoky Mountain. A home non-conference meeting with Brevard follows.
The Bears return on the road on Dec. 16 for a critical early-season matchup with Franklin.
Following the meeting with Franklin, the Bears get their first home conference game against West Henderson on Dec. 20. A road game against Enka follows.
The following week, the Bears will be competing in a holiday tournament from Dec. 27-29.
The new year starts with the final non-conference game on the Bear’s schedule with a second meeting with Brevard, this time on the road.
Then, the Bears host the Mountaineers in Canton for the first leg of the County Clash on Jan. 6.
The Bears follow the meeting with Tuscola with a road game against East Henderson before a three-game home stand.
Those three games include meetings with North Henderson and Smoky Mountain. On Jan. 24, Pisgah hosts Franklin in another crucial matchup for a position in the standings.
As the season winds down, the Bears will find themselves on the road more than they will be in Canton. Following the meeting with Franklin, Pisgah hits the road to face West Henderson.
On Jan. 31, the Bears stay on the road for the second leg of the County Clash against Tuscola. A meeting with East Henderson on Feb. 3 marks the final home game of the season, and a Feb. 7 meeting with North Henderson is the season’s last game.
Last year’s team was very well-rounded, with every player on the roster averaging at least a point per game.
“One thing you have confidence with each other. It allows us to be more versatile in our offense when each player has confidence that the other can score. A lot of basketball is matchups, so we try to take advantage of whatever they give us throughout the night,” Holloway said.
Some players stood out last season, but Pisgah committed to getting everyone involved instead of relying on a few dominant players, which led to success. With those top players gaining more experience coming into this year, it should lead to even more success this season.