The Greenbrier East girls basketball team has some holes to fill this year, but that has not tempered the excitement in Fairlea.
“We did lose some really nice players last year, but I really and truly believe that we have some really talented kids,” Greenbrier East head coach and current West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said. “In most situations they are very young, but I feel like we will be a better basketball team than we were last year. This team has a lot of different dimensions. We have decent size, along with some speed and some decent shooters. I am really excited about this group.”
A good portion of the excitement for the Spartans centers around the last name Stewart this year.
Cadence Stewart is back for her senior season, but now there is another Stewart that will be donning the green and gold. Joining her older sister this year in the back-court will be freshman Kennedy Stewart.
The Stewart sisters are not short on competitive fire.
“From time to time they will get up in each others face a little bit, but that is OK. They compliment each other really well,” Justice said.
The arrival of Kennedy at the high school level allows Cadence to move to her more natural position on the wing.
“Kennedy is going to be a really fine point guard. Cadence will play the two-guard and she should always play the two,” Justice said. “With Kennedy out of the game, she may have to run the point, but I think they both will be as steady as they possibly can be. They will surprise a lot of people. They are really nice basketball players.”
The Alderson Broaddus University commit averaged 21points last years and has scored 1,098 points for her career. She will once again be one of the main scoring threats for the Spartans again this year.
“Without any question in my mind, Cadence Stewart is one of the best basketball players in the state. She should have been first-team all-state last year in my opinion,” Justice said. “Cadence is a real basketball player. Both of them have a really good head on their shoulders, but Cadence has three more years of experience. She is a very talented basketball player.”
Layla Pence has started for Justice each of her two seasons and she will be the anchor for the Spartans in the post.
“Layla Pence should be our five and she is a rebounding machine,” Justice said. “She is a nice passer and is strong with put-backs and that kind of stuff.”
Justice is also hoping his team will benefits from the return of sophomore Caroline Dotson who missed a good portion of her freshman season with an injury.
“I am really hopeful that Caroline Dotson continues to improve,” Justice said. “Caroline actually started a couple of games for us last year and played a lot before she got hurt. She is a talented kid.”
After those four players, Justice admits to still searching a little bit for the right combinations.
“From there it goes a lot of different directions. I could name a lot of others, but I feel like right now that I have seven other kids that could go right into that starting line-up along with the four mentioned,” Justice said. “Without any questions, that is my problem right now. Trying to get a group that harmonizes together and becomes the strength of starters.”
While the veteran admits to still searching for the right combinations, he is excited in the fact that every player can make a solid contribution this season.
“We have 11 kids and I talked to all of them. They can all play and we won’t miss much of a beat with any line-up I put in the game,” Justice said. “It is a nice problem to have, but sometimes it can be a problem. Everybody wants to play, but you can’t play 11 kids all the time. They are competing though. I promise you that.”
Region 3 in Class AAAA has been proven to be a tough ride when it comes to qualifying for the state basketball tournament. This year will be no different, but Justice thinks he has the team to get the job done.
“Cadence has the experience and Kennedy will be strong at the point. We have some kids that can shoot it really well. We have some big kids and solid young players,” Justice said. ‘However, the talent in this area is really good. We have done it several times, but getting to Charleston is tough.”
Greenbrier East will open the season at home against James Monroe Nov. 29.