ELIZABETHTOWN — East Bladen girls varsity basketball coach Patty Evers can still taste last season’s bitter 49-41 loss to Kinston in the third round of the state’s Class 2-A playoffs that ended the Lady Eagles season at 26-1.
“It’s probably the hardest one to get over in my career,” she said. “At least, it’s right up there.”
But East Bladen has a clean slate and new season to tackle, and Evers has her work cut out in molding a team that lost 6-foot, 1-inch All-Four County Conference center Imani Turner Dobson, who was a blocked shot artist, along with forward Abby Norris and Lexi Dawson.
“The dynamics of our team has changed, which means we have to prepare differently,” Evers said. “It is hard to replace eight blocked shots a game, and Abby started all four years and hardly came off the floor. She was a competitor and never missed a practice. She really knew the game.”
But the lady Eagles have an abundant supply of experience returning — including the two-time Four County Conference Player of the Year in senior Lacey Suggs. She will be joined on the floor by senior center Christiana Cromartie, senior point guard Abby Ward and senior guard Miller Hesutess, forming a senior nucleus that has gone 78-11 over the past three seasons.
“This group is senior led and would like to get back to the regionals,” Evers said. “They are a fun group to be around and will be fun to watch.”
In addition, Evers said juniors like Emily Scott and Lexie Mendell will be expected to play a significant role.
“Emily gives us more experience because she has played for two years and has grown as a player by watching and learning in practice,” Evers said. “Lexie sat out her freshman year with a torn ACL, but came back last year. She is first off the bench and provides depth. She has looked really good in the pre-season.”
Filling out the depth chart for the lady Eagles will be juniors Michele Page and Danielle McDowell, along with sophomore Shardajah Brown, who is out with a knee injury right now.
Also, freshmen Ja’Tyra Moore-Peterson and Ashly Hardin will give East Bladen some youth at the back end.
“These young ladies have very high basketball IQs and have shown progress making the adjustment from middle school to high school,” Evers said. “Both will see a significant amount of playing time.”
The Lady Eagles’ and Evers have been known for a stiff defense over the years, and there’s little reason to think that won’t continue. Although Evers says rebounding will be a work in progress, she added that she is impressed with how the team is coming together.
“We run the floor better than we have before and we are playing like a team full of seniors,” she said. “We cut hard to the basket and we are quick getting the outlet, but rebounding definitely needs work.”
If East Bladen is to repeat as conference champions, Evers thinks the threats will come from familiar foes: Clinton and Midway.
The Lady Eagles were scheduled to open the season on Thursday against Southwest Onslow. They will host St. Pauls on Tuesday at 6 p.m. before competing in the Wilmington Laney Tournament during the Thanksgiving weekend.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.