Reloaded Red Hawks build on last year’s success

Reloaded Red Hawks build on last year’s success

HICKORY, N.C. — Coming off a record-setting season, the Catawba Valley Community College women's basketball team is aiming for even more success as it enters the 2018-19 season.

The Red Hawks, who finished last season with a 26-6 overall record, have to replace a sophomore-laden squad that included the program's first-ever 1,000-point scorer in Shaniya Lester.

"I'm excited for a new year and new journey," said CVCC head women's basketball coach Tisha England, who enters her sixth season. "The girls are working hard, but we can always work harder to get where we need to be. We are in the process right now of getting that discipline and making sure that we understand the game of basketball and work together as a team. I'm looking forward to our first game. We've had a lot of scrimmages, but we still want to be able to push forward to the games and see what we are really about."

This season, the Red Hawks bolster a roster of 14 players, which includes seven freshmen and three sophomore transfers entering the fold.

"I'm starting back over," England said of her 2018-19 CVCC women's basketball team. "I have three transfers, but I look at them as freshmen because they don't know my system. In the classroom last year, we did a remarkable job. They understood the game and understood what they wanted, which was to win and to be successful. This group is different, but I like different. It's a challenge, and we're going to work hard to accomplish our goals."

Leading this young group will be four returning sophomores in center Zharia Brown, forward Kanijah King-Cooper and guards Alizeyah Mitchell and Nicole Lyerly.

Brown, a 6-foot-1 center from Charlotte, N.C., averaged 12.0 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest last season, and she is already garnering attention from a number of four-year schools.

"She is probably one of most highly recruiting players as a sophomore coming back," England said. "She has a presence on the court — not just being big, but she can also shoot a little outside. She played in a lot of games last year. She knew the competitiveness of our league and our conference."

England has also been very pleased with both Mitchell and Lyerly and what they bring to the table as sophomore leaders.

"Alizeyah and Nicole are two quick guards who are seasoned players," England said. "They are smart and understand the game."

King-Cooper will try return to the court in early 2019 following a torn ACL and surgery late last season.

"Kanijah is coming off an injury," England said. "Hopefully, we can get her back later in the season."

All three of the Red Hawks' sophomore transfers — Sherry Johnson, Milequa Eason and Danielle Rainey — have experience in Region X play with each transferring from a rival school inside of Catawba Valley's conference.

"They all bring something different to the table, but they all want the same thing that we have, which is the success," England said of her sophomore transfers. "Sherry Johnson, who transferred from Guilford Tech, is a very seasoned player. We call her the 'silent assassin.' She works well. She can rebound and shoot. She brings a lot of wisdom to the team. Milequa Eason from Louisburg is a defensive specialist. Her defense is very intense. Danielle Rainey from Cape Fear is a slasher who wants to go to the hole."

With coaching a group of seven freshmen, England said the biggest challenge for this young group of Red Hawks has been adapting to playing at the next level.

"They are all trying to adjust to the game," she said. "From high school to college, the pace is so much quicker. Kids are taller. They are bigger and stronger. I think they all can bring a great impact to the team. That's why I have them here, which is to put their spice in with our other spices to make a beautiful cake out of it."

England has tried to test her young squad this preseason by playing games against not only top competition such as NCAA DII team and cross-town rival Lenoir-Rhyne, but also traveling to scrimmage in Chicago, Ill.

England believes the trip to the "Windy City" will be beneficial long-term for her group.

"We played three games in one day," England said. "That was gruesome. The kids have to understand that you always have to be ready, whether it's a morning game or night game. They have to be ready to experience different types of talent that's all around the world. I think it was a great life-changing experience for all of them — not just on the basketball court, but outside of basketball. Each day we are getting better. Each time we scrimmage, we try to learn from our mistakes."

The Red Hawks enter this season ranked 16th in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) DII preseason poll — the first time the program has earned a preseason national ranking since 2013.

England believes there are expectations that come with such a high honor.

"Hands down there is pressure," she said. "This has been a long time coming. For me, I think we should be ranked every year. I'm excited to be ranked, and I know there's a lot of pressure. We've just got to learn how to overcome it."

This season's CVCC women's basketball team motto is "Greater Together" — something England was inspired from after a message from her pastors Don and Helen Bledsoe.

"We just took it and are trying to run with it," England said of the motto. "We are greater together. It takes more than just one. It's going to take all of us to come together to make our team greater."

The Red Hawks play their first regular-season game this Thursday on the road against the Montreat JV squad. Tip off is set for 7:30 p.m.

England is excited to get her team's season going and is hoping for even more success than the Red Hawks experienced last winter.

"I think every game is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time," England said. "As a former athlete, I have that mindset of putting myself in a game situation. I'm excited for the players. I'm excited for the freshmen to experience what it is to play on the collegiate level. I'm excited for my sophomores because they want to leave a lasting impact here at CVCC. They experienced last year with the greatness that we have, and now they want to be even greater. I'm blessed to be a part of this team and group and to be their coach."