Stines free throw

Alexis Stines shoots a free throw in Avery’s season-opening win over East Henderson on January 4. Stines scored in double figures in each of the Lady Viking victories over the Lady Eagles last week.

Avery Lady Vikings basketball opened its 2020-2021 truncated regular season with a pair of victories against the Lady Eagles of East Henderson High School.

Without the benefit of a junior varsity girls team this season, and with four experienced players still playing volleyball, a number of young players had the opportunity to see game time for the club to start regular-season play. If the opening week is any indication, the Lady Vikings’ deep and talented roster will be a tough matchup for teams across the Western Highlands Conference for the duration of the delayed 2021 season.

“More than anything, I am super excited about this team because our freshman and sophomores have added some much needed depth to our roster from a year ago. They are going to bring a spark that we’ve needed and they have shown that they can compete at the varsity level,” Lady Vikings head coach Allison Phillips said. “With so many challenges, most having to do with Covid, we’ve lost some girls this year, so we will only have one varsity team and no JV. I hate it, but I’m also excited for the future of our program! We have a great mix of youth and veterans and they are going to make some noise in our conference.”

Avery 52, East Henderson 24

NEWLAND — The opening salvo by the Big Red in 2021 came in its home opener as it hosted East Henderson on Monday, Jan. 4, on Tommy Burleson Court at Viking Gym.

Avery rolled out to an early lead behind four field goals from Khloe Burleson and six points from Alexis Stines, while teammate Zoie McClarin chipped in with a pair of baskets. The strength of Avery’s offensive attack was matched by its defensive intensity. Full-court pressing by the Lady Vikings proved to frustrate the Lady Eagles and forced a number of turnovers, helping Avery to build a 21-3 lead after one quarter.

The Viking offense slowed in the second quarter, but the team’s defensive intensity continued to pay dividends. East could not muster any consistency on offense, as it was held to less than 10 points for the half. Avery’s Stines continued to provide the lion’s share of the offensive firepower, knocking down a pair of additional baskets as part of an 11-point first half. Baskets by McClarin and Bob Greer helped to extend the AHS advantage to 30-9 at the halftime break.

Playing with a substantial lead, the Lady Vikings continued to add to its lead. Burleson connected for the team’s lone three-pointer of the contest during the third quarter, while McClarin pitched in with five points in the frame as the Big Red took a 41-16 lead into the final eight minutes.

Consistently throughout the game the Lady Eagles mightily struggled with the speed and length of the Avery defense, as the Lady Vikings forced a number of errant passes and turnovers that translated into either extra possessions or offensive transition opportunities. Five Lady Vikings scored in the final period, led by three points from point guard Emree Hoilman, as Avery cruised to the win.

Three Lady Vikings posted double figures in the scoring column in the win, as Stines, Burleson and McClarin each poured in 13 points. Stines added 10 steals, while McClarin posted 10 rebounds for her first career varsity double-double. East was paced by Journee McMinn’s seven points.

“After the first game I was super proud of my freshman and sophomore girls who stepped up big in the absence of four of our key returning varsity players from last year, who were still in volleyball season,” Phillips explained. “I thought Alexis Stines, our senior, and sophomore point guard Emree Hoilman did a good job of getting the younger girls in the right mindset before the game. On the floor they looked aggressive defensively and it created easy offense for them. I was so proud of how they stepped up! We had some sloppy moments, but they played hard and that’s what I wanted to see from them.”

Avery 47, East Henderson 24

FLAT ROCK — Due to a pending snowstorm that could potentially cancel a Friday matchup, the schools agreed to move its game ahead one night to beat the storm, setting the stage for the rematch on Thursday, Jan. 7.

Much like the first matchup three days earlier, the Lady Vikings held firm control of the contest from the opening tip, using a 15-2 scoring run in the second quarter to build a commanding 20-point halftime lead en route to the 23-point win.

Avery welcomed back to the lineup four varsity players from a season ago, Cora Hollifield, Reagan Hughes, Emma Wise and Addie Beck, who did not suit up for the season opener. Making the largest offensive impact in the contest was Beck, who poured in a game-high 18 points. Stines was the only other Lady Viking in double figures, scoring 12 points.

The pairings of Stines/Beck was a veritable cup of gold offensively in the opening stanza, as the duo combined for eight of the Big Red’s 11 first-quarter points, helping Avery snag an 11-4 lead after one quarter.

Avery’s defensive pressure again proved to confound the Lady Eagles on offense, holding EHHS to just two points while forcing East into several gaffes that the Lady Vikings took advantage of. Beck asserted herself in the post with four baskets in the frame as part of a 12-point first half, while Hoilman drained a three-pointer as part of a five-point effort in the period. Avery closed the half on a 15-2 run that gave the Lady Vikings a 26-6 lead at halftime.

East finally found some offensive footing, more than doubling its total points for the game over the span of the third period alone with two baskets each from McMinn and Desiree Buchanan. The Lady Eagles could not cut into the Lady Vikings lead, however, as Beck and Stines scored four points each in the period to propel the Big Red to a 36-14 lead entering the final quarter.

Throughout the final period, Avery continued to work on both ends of the floor, as the deep roster saw several reserves with floor time to contribute to the team victory.

“We knew they were getting their volleyball players back, but so were we, so we felt confident going into the game,” Phillips said following the win. “I felt like we got off to a slower start, but we were still able to have 18 steals for the game, which really helped us because the rims were not giving (anything) to us. This time, they had to deal with Addie Beck and Reagan Hughes in the paint, and that was way too much for East Henderson.”

Overall, the Lady Vikings improve to 2-0 for the season, and although the future looks bright with the team preparing to enter conference play, the coach noted there is always room for improvement.

“I felt like it was a good start to the season for our girls who didn’t get to play on Monday, but we didn’t play with the same intensity, so that’s something we’ve got to correct moving forward,” Phillips added.

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