Statesville Christian girls basketball preview

Statesville Christian's Jordan Ellis (32) battles for a rebound against Neuse Christian during the NCISAA 1A state semifinals last season. The Lions came within one victory of playing for the state championship. They finished 31-1.

The 2017-18 campaign was one to remember for Statesville Christian’s girls basketball team.

“Winning 31 in a season doesn’t happen often,” coach Mark McCollum said smiling during Tuesday’s practice.

Statesville Christian carried an unblemished record all the way to the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A state semifinals before losing 71-52 to McDonald’s All-American Izabela Nicoletti (Florida State) and Raleigh’s Neuse Christian.

The Lions captured the Southern Piedmont Athletic Association championship on their way to a 31-1 record. It was the greatest season in program history.

“You want to have the best hopes for your team,” senior Mallory Sherrill said. “I don’t think we expected that, though.”

Time will tell what the encore looks like.

The Lions open the season Friday as part of the Tip Off Classic hosted by Charlotte’s Northside Christian Academy. They face Trinity School of Durham. On Saturday, the Lions play their second tournament game against Wayne Country Day, which finished 21-5 last season.

Talent fueled the number of victories last season, but that was only an element of the winning formula.

“Working together and pushing one another” was important, senior Jordan Ellis said.

“Trust played a big part, too,” Sherrill added. “If we can’t trust each other we can’t be successful.”

They weren’t catching breaks and just sneaking by opponents. Most nights the Lions roared past them. All but three of the victories were by double digits.

Statesville Christian averaged nearly 70 points, a product of the team’s eagerness to fast break.

“I think it will still be the transition game,” Ellis said when asked about strengths of this year’s squad. “We’re driving and kicking to A.B.”

She was referring to teammate Anna Blue Bentley, who was typically the first off the bench and saw healthy minutes on the court as a junior last season. Always a threat to drain a 3-pointer, Bentley keeps perimeter defenders on their toes.

Statesville Christian lost two starters to graduation—Jordan Peters, a walk-on at Liberty University, and Amy Holchin. A third starter, Aasia McNeill, transferred to Statesville High for her senior year. With their departures they took a lot of varsity experience, not to mention offensive and defensive productivity.

“There is definitely work to do to catch up,” Sherrill said, “but the new players are coming along well.

“Moving up to 2A this year will be a challenge, especially losing three seniors,” Sherrill added.

“But we’re up for it,” Ellis immediately chimed in.

The good news? The Lions’ top two leaders in scoring average, field goal percentage and rebounding are back.

Sherrill, a forward/center, averaged 15.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and shot 49.5 percent from the field during her All-State junior year. She verbally committed to Lenoir-Rhyne University.

Ellis, a guard/forward, averaged 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a junior. She made 45.5 percent of her shots. Ellis was also second on the team in assists with a 4.2 per-game average.

Catawba, Coker, Gardner Webb, Indiana Wesleyan, Mars Hill and North Greenville are among the colleges who’ve already offered scholarships to Ellis. Appalachian State, N.C. State and Charleston Southern have also shown interest.

Bentley’s younger sister Brenna Rae, a freshman, is also expected to see her playing time spike after contributing in a smaller role as an eighth-grader.

McCollum noted the additions of Frankie Vargas and Jaden Stutts, both of whom suit up for the Statesville Christian girls soccer team in the spring.

“So they’ve got that toughness mentality,” McCollum said.

There are 10 players on the roster.

Four are seniors. For them, time is of the essence.

“Last ride,” Ellis noted.

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