Monday, June 17, 2024

Sting of state basketball championship loss motivates Rock Hill girls this summer

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Kenny Orr understands losing. He sees it as a precursor to success.

The 13-year Rock Hill High School girls’ basketball head coach began his tenure with back-to-back losing seasons. The Bearcats has only failed to win 20 games twice in the 10 years since, and won a state championship in 2022. In 2024 they broke the program record for most wins in a season with 27.

However, losing 60-42 to Sumter in the SCHSL 5A state championship game in March was a gut punch to Orr.

“The hardest part for me was I didn’t realize how it would feel, the sting of the loss,” Orr said. “It was very eye-opening…Yeah, we were one of the last two teams standing, but it was heartbreaking.”

Monday was the first day of summer workouts for Rock Hill, and that pain has transformed into a hunger for Orr and his players.

Last year’s 27-4 team had six seniors graduate, including All-State guard De’Ashaj Crawford and starters Layla Jones and Sarah Anderson-Wildy.

However, the Bearcats still have plenty of quality players to rely on.

Senior starting point guard Aubrey Stevenson (10.4 points per game, 6.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists) is heading into her second and final year with the team, while junior wing Chloe Hudson (16.3 points per game, 7.4 rebounds) has stepped into a veteran position after earning All-State honors and leading the state with 126 3-pointers last season.

“It’s been a big change having to be more of a voice out here and taking more of a leadership role,” Hudson said. “It’s been different. It’s not going to be perfect every time. It’s just trial and error.”

The team will have new faces in big roles for the team this season.

Senior big Imani Sterling saw a lot of playing time rotating with Anderson-Wildy and will be assuming a full-time starting role; sophomores Chrissy Dunbar and Taylor Land are stepping into Jones’s and Crawford’s roles in the lineup.

Land, who played sparingly as a freshman for Rock Hill last season, said her expectations are to improve both as a player and a leader.

“(De’Ashaj and I) were similar because I like to drive a lot, and she liked to drive a lot,” Land said. “…Something I can take from her is getting my shot better. She took a lot of shots, shot a lot of 3, and I just have to work on that more.”

Orr also said this team will have a lot more size than in previous seasons.

Former Legion Collegiate and senior guard E’Lyric James and freshmen Jaylah White and Anna Williamson are all around 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-3 junior forward La’Kayla Smith is moving up from Rock Hill’s JV team.

Having so many players in new roles will test Orr in what he felt like was his biggest lesson learned from this past season.

Stevenson transferred to Rock Hill just before the start of the 2023-24 school year, missing most of the team’s summer workouts and practices. What Orr saw in Stevenson was a talented point guard with great potential as a scorer..

However, Stevenson prefers to be a more traditional point guard, one who controls the tempo of the offense and sets up her teammates — and who can score when necessary.

Orr said that was when he realized learning his players and understanding what they want to do within the scheme of the team was an important detail.

“I thought I did a great job in the past about that, but last year was the first time I had to really look back and evaluate,” Orr said. “Because I kept thinking, (Stevenson) is going to be a scorer. She’s going to come here and drop 18, 20 points. Sometimes, we were forcing her to shoot more. She did what I asked her, but that’s not her… From that point, I just learned how to read my players a lot better.”

Rock Hill will be at Blacksburg High School on Tuesday for the sixth-annual Zaxby’s Girls’ Basketball Team Shoot-Out. The Bearcats will first play against Dorman at 9 a.m.

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