Coach: Jessica Gunter
Last season: 3-22
Key returners: Stella Gunter, G, soph.; Julia Day, G, sr.; Kelsey Wheeler, F, jr.
Key losses: Kathryn Perdue, Lexi Herald, Rachael Rife
Promising newcomers: Kassidy Austin, Savanna Howery, Sydney Lester
Outlook: Graham (1-10, 1-2) earned its first win Tuesday with a 53-43 decision over Tazewell, as the 5-foot-10 Day scored 17 points and 5-6 senior Amilyon Dixon added 10.
Stella Gunter, Day (8 ppg.) and Wheeler (6 ppg., 4 rpg.) started last year, while 5-11 senior post Shayla Short and 5-6 senior Amilyon Dixon moved into the lineup this season. Dixon was slowed by a serious knee injury last season.
Short has signed to play volleyball at Concord. Lester and Austin, who are both 5-10, provide depth. Day serves as the defensive stopper.
The highlight of last season came in the playoffs. After defeating Tazewell and Marion in the SWD tournament, Graham led Ridgeview 24-22 at halftime in a first round Region 2D game before falling 52-41.
Elle Gunter, who averaged six points and 10 rebounds as a freshman last year, will likely miss the entire season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Coach’s Quote: “While we lost players and endured some heartbreak going into this season, this team is a family. The players communicate and read each other as well as any team I’ve ever coached. We may not be the most athletic team in the district or region, but we play well together. This team is a joy to coach.”
Coach: Rex Parker
Last season: 21-6
Key returners: Averie Price, G, sr.; Kara Long, F, sr.; Morgan Varney, C; Emily Musick, G
Key losses: Kayla Bollinger, Morgan Hamm, Madison Varney, Alyssa Padilla
Promising newcomers: Madison Hamm, Alexis Horne, Lauren Boothe, Autumn Boothe
Outlook: Lebanon is coming off a season to remember.
The Pioneers tied the single-season school record with 21 wins and advanced to the Region 2D semifinals before falling 58-35 to eventual state champion Wise County Central.
Lebanon also posted a 9-1 SWD record, forcing a one-game playoff with Virginia High for the regular season title. After falling to VHS again in the SWD tournament championship, Lebanon opened regional play with a 45-44 win over Gate City as three players reached double figures.
Price averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.2 steals last season while shooting 43.1 percent from the field. Long (13.9 ppg., 4.1 rpg.) was also versatile. Padilla, a two-time All-SWD pick, is now on the roster at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
So far this season, Lebanon (6-3, 2-0) has posted SWD victories against Virginia High and Richlands. Price is averaging 18.9 points, with Long (12.5 ppg.) next in line.
Parker listed defense and scoring as team strengths, while lack of size, rebounding and youth are concerns.
Coach’s Quote: N/A
Marion Scarlet Hurricanes
Coach: Sallie Moss
Last season: 13-13
Key returners: Kaylee Poston, G, jr.; Calie Blackburn, G, jr.; Amber Kimberlin, F, soph.; Kailey Terry, F, soph.; Audrey Moss, C, jr.; Haley Farris, C
Key losses: Gracie Billings
Promising newcomers: Brittany Brown, Kelsea Evans, Jazz Miller
Outlook: Moss returned four starters who grew up competing at the travel ball and AAU level.
That experience has been evident in the 12-3 start for the Scarlet Hurricanes.
Kimberlin (10.3 ppg) provides perimeter shooting along with intelligent passing and defense. Guards Anna Hagy and Gabby Whitt have also been effective this season along with Farris.
Marion delivered a statement with Tuesday’s 53-21 win at Virginia High. Kimberlin and Hagy set the pace with 15 points apiece, while Farris added 10. Marion has a 2-0 SWD record entering tonight’s showdown against Lebanon.
With no seniors on the roster, the future looks bright.
After falling 52-26 to Virginia High in the semifinals of last season’s SWD tournament, Marion opened regional play with a 71-38 setback against Wise County Central.
Coach’s Quote: “Expectations are high. These ladies have set their goals and work very hard to achieve them. The ladies have great chemistry and above-average basketball IQ. They can be very exciting to watch.”
Richlands Blue Tornado
Coach: Aaron Lowe
Last season: 11-14
Key returners: Lauren Earls, G, sr.; Chloe Perkins, G; Gillian Guerriero, F, soph.; Denissa Ball, F, soph.; Ginger Short, C, sr.; Savannah Stevenson, sr.; Addie Hurst, jr.
Key losses: none
Promising newcomers: Rachael Rife (transfer from Graham)
Outlook: Three starters return in Earls, Guerriero and Short, while Stevenson (9 rpg.) and Hurst (6 ppg., 9 rpg.) also have varsity experience.
So far this season, the Blues (3-6, 0-2) have dropped district games to Marion and Lebanon.
Earls (18 ppg.) has provided scoring and passing at point guard so far, while Ball (12 ppg.) is a force in the paint.
The Blues fell 53-49 to Marion last season in the first round of the SWD tourney as Earls scored 17 points.
Four sophomores were in the regular rotation last season. Earls is a four-year starter who averaged 20 points last season.
Coach’s Quote: “We’re extremely excited about this group led by Earls. We have a lot of depth, with young talent. We hang our hat on teamwork, love and commitment. It’s gonna be a good year.”
Coach: Chawn Martin
Last season: 11-11
Key returners: Raelle White, G, sr.; Brooke Rowe, G, sr.; Taylor Ray, G, soph.; Alivia Nolley, F, jr.
Key losses: Megan White, Abbi Davis
Promising newcomers: Lexi Herald (transfer from Graham), Mallorie Whitaker
Outlook: Tazewell ended last season with a 64-63 loss to Graham in the opening round of the SWD tournament.
White (10.2 ppg., 5.8 rpg. 4.9 assists per game) and Rowe (10.6 ppg., 4.4 rpg.) were both second-team All-SWD selections, while Ray and Nolley (7.2 rpg.) averaged five points apiece.
Rowe and White combined for 34 points early this season as the Bulldogs defeated Fort Chiswell, 71-65.
Whitaker, a 5-10 freshman, and the 5-11 Nolley are the only players on the roster over 5-foot-8.
Herald supplied 13 points as Tazewell (5-6, 0-3) fell at Graham on Tuesday.
Coach’s Quote: “We have balance, with multiple players who can score and play several roles depending upon what is needed on any given night. There will be an emphasis on being a consistent team that plays at the same level each game.”
Virginia High Bearcats
Coach: Kevin Timmons
Last season: 22-5
Key returners: Ale Sydnor, G, sr.; Maria Wilson, G, soph.; Madison Worley, C, jr.; Bre Owens, PG, jr.
Key losses: Amaya Lee, Jada Campbell, Taylor Owens
Promising newcomer: Aly Wright
Outlook: After posting a 24-1 record against SWD foes the past two years, Timmons began his fifth season with a new lineup.
The dynamic Lee, a three-time all-state pick, was selected as the SWD co-player of the year last season after averaging 11 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals.
Campbell (17 ppg., 3 rpg., 2.3 steals per game) is now playing with Lee at King University. The two also competed in the Virginia High School Coaches Association all-star game in Wise.
Owens, the 2017 SWD player of the year, earned second-team all-state honors last season after averaging 22 points and eight rebounds. After originally signing with Walters State Community College, Owens plans to play at Emory & Henry next season.
VHS and Lebanon tied atop the SWD last season with 9-1 records. VHS earned its fourth straight district title with a 50-45 win over the Pioneers in a playoff game, and beat Lebanon again (54-31) for its second straight SWD tournament championship.
The Bearcats opened regional play last season with a 58-57 overtime win over Union before falling 54-40 to Ridgeview.
So far this season, VHS (7-7, 1-2) has lost to SWD rivals Lebanon and Marion. The 6-foot Worley missed most of the Marion game and all of Wednesday’s contest against Abingdon with a knee injury.
Wilson currently leads the Bearcats with 14 points per game, with Sydnor (10 ppg.) and Worley (9.7 ppg.) next in line. Sydnor has signed to play at Concord University.
The Bearcats also rely on sophomore wing Dianna Spence (6.2 ppg.) and senior center Madison Campbell.
Coach’s Quote: “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a game like we played against Marion on Tuesday, but that’s what happens when you don’t accept challenges. I hope that loss was a lesson. Our players have to accept new roles and learn how to compete on every possession. If we can develop some new leaders to replace the group of seniors we graduated, we could be good and keep the legacy going.”
2. Virginia High