By Richard Taylor
Despite a season complicated by COVID-cancelled games and long bus rides, Ocracoke’s varsity girls’ basketball team has persevered, going undefeated (6-0) in the Atlantic 5 (1A) Conference, taking the regular season title the first time since Sydney Austin’s senior year in 2017.
Stellar senior Savannah Hodson, and standout sophomores Alyssa Bryan and Maren Donlon have led the dominant Lady Dolphins since their first lopsided victory over the First Flight Nighthawks 3A JV team, 52-19 in Kill Devil Hills, Dec. 1.
First-year coach Kadi Richardson was ecstatic after her Dolphins impressive 51-37 win at Hatteras in the annual Battle for the Paddle back on Jan. 28. “We knew we had to press the whole game and that’s what they did,” she said. “They kept their energy up and flustered Hatteras so much, that they didn’t know what to do with it. We’ve grown so much since our first game. I’m very proud of them.”
At home, those guards have thrilled cheering Tank crowds with their skillful ball handling, sharp shooting, and aggressive full-court defense.
Tenacious, under-the-basket defense from juniors Lillian Perez and Maggie Evans — and Evans’ own frequent rebound-generated layups — have added greatly to the team’s high-energy, hard-fought 9-3 overall record.
With only two regular season conference games remaining — Bear Grass Charter away on Feb. 14 and Columbia home on Feb. 15 — the top-seeded Lady Dolphins (6-0 in conference), have earned home-court advantage when the conference tournament begins Feb. 16.
Richardson is proud of the progress her girls have made this season, especially home conference wins over Mattamuskeet, Bear Grass and Hatteras last week.
Following the Lady Dolphins’ convincing 61-40 Senior Night home win over cross-sound rival Hatteras Feb. 12, Richardson reflected on the team’s three wins in four days last week.
“Bear Grass was one of the toughest games of the season,” she said describing the Dolphins scrappy 44-32 victory over the second place Bears last Thursday. “That was one of the hardest, toughest games of the season. The girls were tired, but they pulled it out. They put everything into our defense; we full court pressed the entire game. They did a fabulous job and kept their attitudes in check the whole game.”
Richardson said tonight’s away game will be tough.
“We may have caught them off-guard a little bit here, but with them having home-court advantage (on Valentine’s Day), we will really have our work cut out for us,” she said.
Today’s game doesn’t matter in the rankings, since the Bears have lost two conference games and the Dolphins none.
The Lady Dolphins will begin play in the Atlantic 5 tournament here Wednesday, likely against Hatteras. Should they beat the Hurricanes for the third time Wednesday, they will advance to the tournament finals with a home game Feb 18.
The coach praised the progress her girls have made this year, especially junior guard Lillian Perez. “Lillian has really stepped it up on our defense all year,” she said.
Star senior guard Savannah Hodson graduates in June. ”I’m very said to be losing her,” Richardson said. “Man, if she’s on with her 3-point shots, she’ll be popping those all night, so I’m very sad to be missing her next year.”
Richardson expects good things from several girls moving up from middle school next year, especially freshman Catherine Todd. “She was out for a couple of weeks this year due to injury, the first-year coach explained, “but she’s a really solid player who hasn’t really played for two years due to Dorian and COVID. I expect good things from her and some of the other girls as well.”
Maren Donlon’s shooting, rebounding and aggressive full-court defense was especially evident during last week’s three home games.
However, Richardson could lose her four-sport sophomore phenom next year. “Maren might be going to the School of Math and Science,” she said, “but we have a lot of solid players and some freshmen coming up for next year.”
Varsity boys basketball
The season has been disappointing for boys’ varsity Coach Frank Moore, whose Dolphins struggled all season, with an overall 4-7 record and 2-4 in conference so far.
“You got to realize, most of these kids should be playing JV basketball, and missing two years really hurt these kids,” Moore said. “We’ve got a long ways to go. The best thing is we’re getting better every game.”
After his team’s 49-26 home win over Mattamuskeet Feb. 8, Moore said, “we did a really good job in the second half,” and predicted his Dolphins would hold their own if they could get to the conference tournament championship game.
Moore said he tries to get student-athletes who haven’t played much into most games, including freshman forward Uriel Guerrero, who hit an electrifying three-point swish in front of the Dolphins bench against Mattamuskeet in the Tank on Feb. 8.
“When he hit that three, it was good for him and good for those (cheering) kids in the stands,” Moore chuckled the next day after practice. “It’s been two years with these kids not playing competitive basketball, and they’re behind. A year ago, it was cold in here and we had a generator for the lights and a propane heater. The floor got slick when it rained. I wish we could have won more games, but I’m proud of where we are so far.”
Moore said the number of games the Dolphins have played in the last two weeks has been like professional basketball. “Heck, the NBA doesn’t play that kind of schedule and we’ve only got eight kids on the varsity.”
Guard Rosalio Villanveva hit the floor hard twice in the game against Hatteras Jan. 28 in Buxton and again at home last week. After grimacing several minutes each time, the scrappy senior went to the bench, and then returned to the game. “Rosalio’s all right,” said Moore in Buxton. “As hard as he plays, he’s going to get hurt.”
Moore was disappointed about two technical fouls called against his players Jan. 28 at Hatteras, “I want us to play hard,” he said after the game, “but I don’t want us to run our mouths, ‘cause all the officials know about it.”
After his Dolphins beat Mattamuskeet 49-26 at home Feb. 8, Moore’s team lost decisively in the other two home games last week, felling to Bear Grass 49-27 on Feb. 10 and Hatteras 79-22 on Senior Night.
Junior varsity/middle school
With only six players, Charlie Ralston’s Dolphin JV boys struggled through their four games this season, including losses to Bear Grass 27-21 Feb. 10 and Hatteras 29-19 Feb. 11.
Mary McKnight’s middle school girls and C.J. Wynn’s middle school boys played eight games, both home and away this season. Most were losses.
Even after his Jan. 19 home loss to Columbia, Wynn remained optimistic saying, “We use every game as a learning experience.”