By Dave Morrison
CLEAR FORK – Walk into the gym at Westside and you likely won’t find Lady Renegades girls coach Jamie Lusk not brimming with the confidence of a champion.
He’s been a state champion and he knows what it takes to make a champion.
He’s done it.
Westside had the preeminent program in Wyoming County in the early part of the decade, winning state championships in 2012 (beating Scott 49-46) and 2014 (beating Sissonville 43-33) and finishing runners-up in 2013 (falling to Bridgeport 44-27).
The Lady Renegades were 28-0 in 2012 and had a record of 74-5 during that three-year run.
Lusk won his 200th career game early last season and now has 210 victories in a 13-year career at Westside.
He’d like to get back to those state tournament days and his expectations are lofty for this season.
“I have very high expectations for this season,” Lusk said. “We are extremely experienced with this junior class who have all played a lot of minutes in a lot of big games. We are going to play hard defense and be aggressive because we feel like we have a deep bench.”
Indeed, the starting five is solid on experience and Lusk figures he can go eight to nine deep on his bench without losing a beat.
Westside returns four starters from an 11-11 team a year ago.
The growing pains of a young team have been replaced by a veteran group, led by 5-foot-5 point guard Makayla Morgan (12 ppg, 8.1 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals) and 5-7 shooting guard Leslie Bailey (12 ppg, 6.0 rebounds).
“Makayla has started since she was a freshman and she is like a coach on the floor,” Lusk said. “Leslie is the hardest worker of any girl I’ve coached in my 13 years. She is a fantastic 3-point shooter and foul shooter.”
Actually there were not many growing pains with the Renegades top two scorers, both having played on the 2017 team that beat Wyoming East in the sectional championship.
Riana Kenneda, another 5-7 junior, returns after averaging 10 points per game.
“She is a great 3-point shooter and we really look for her to start to penetrate more this season because she can get to the basket extremely well,” Lusk said. “She is a great defender. She runs the floor extremely well and is a good finisher on the break.”
Hannah Toler, a 5-9 junior, is back as well after averaging eight and nine rebounds.
“She can play anywhere on the floor from point guard to center,” Lusk said. “We look for Hannah to really step up her scoring this season because she is a difficult matchup for defenses. She can make the 3 and get to the basket as well as anybody.”
The potential fifth starter is 5-11 junior center Lauren Thomas who averaged four points and four rebounds a year ago.
“She is very strong, and a very intelligent player,” Lusk said. “She understands what the coaches want her to do and she is a good finisher around the basket who can step out and make the outside shot.”
Coming off the bench will be Halie Carter (5-9 senior center), Madisyn Morgan (5-5 junior), Taylor Brown (5-6 junior).
“Halie is a good rebounder and runs the floor well,” Lusk said. “Madisyn is by far the fastest girls on the team. We really look for her to be one of our top defenders and get us some fast break lay ups. Taylor can play either guard spot and is a good shooter and defender.”
Lusk is high on Breezy St. Clair, a 5-5 freshman point guard.
“She will back up Makayla Morgan,” Lusk said. “She is a great ball handler and passer. She doesn’t rattle easy which is rare for a freshman.”
Lusk wants to run and not stop.
“We want to push the ball and get up and down the floor because we feel like we have athletes and speed,” Lusk said. “We are guard heavy but we are going to play our big girls more than last year. We tried to play small and we suffered from a lack of rebounding and post defense. We are making a commitment to trying to play bigger but trying to maintain our 3-point shooting Nd our guards getting to the basket.
“Our goal is to get back to Charleston and give these girls a chance to play pm the big stage. We are excited to get started because we feel these girls are ready.”
Lusk knows the road to Charleston is full of potential pitfalls.
“Wyoming East is very good,” Lusk said. “Bluefield, PikeView, James Monroe and River View should all be very good as well. We know the type of basketball we have to play to make it out of the region. It’s a fight every year.”
The latter four are in Class AA Region 3, Section 2. Westside and Wyoming East are in Class AA Region 3, Section 1 with Independence, Liberty and Oak Hill.
Wyoming East and Westside, staples in the state tournament the past seven years (appearing in five championship games and winning three), have never gone to the state tournament the same season.
Westside opens the season at home against Liberty on Dec. 3 and travels to River View on Dec. 4.