A preseason girls basketball tournament held in Charleston recently wasn't so much a tournament as it was a get-together or play day.
But Whale Branch Early College High School coach Wilbert Bryant left with some knowledge about his third Warriors team. Forward S'Nitra Mack, the reigning Region 5-A Player of the Year and an all-state selection, had scored 25 points during one of her team's victories. Point guard Kemoni Jenkins continued to show signs of progress starting her second season, working to facilitate the offense more than look for her own shot. And newcomer Jonae Riley showed she would be a good fit in the post.
This balanced Warriors' team pleases Bryant, who hopes it can win Region 5-A and advance deeper in the playoffs than last season's second-round loss to Hemingway.
"Right now, we've got a starting five that, on any given night, one of them can step up," Bryant said. "That's a good thing."
That balance was on display Wednesday, when Whale Branch defeated Hilton Head Island High School for the first time. Mack was held to single digits, but Jenkins scored 12 points and delivered nine assists. Riley added eight points.
And the Warriors' full-court pressure and halfcourt trap created quick opportunities on the other end. Whale Branch runs few halfcourt sets. The Warriors will first look to score off the fast break and then set up a secondary break, with post players settling on the block.
Outside of the full-court press, the Warriors will at times converge with two guards on the first ball-handler past halfcourt, with the other three defenders moving up to the 3-point line to fill passing lanes.
Havoc and quick points are the goal.
"We're really going to have to do that," Bryant said. "We don't have the shooters yet that we had last year, so we're going to have to do that."
The Warriors do have capable shooters once they warm up. Mack isn't afraid to pull the trigger from outside and guard Kenyada Moultrie shoots well from the perimeter. But with Jenkins' ability to get in the lane and find post players on the blocks, Whale Branch could find most of its success inside the arc.
Bryant moved Mack from the wing back down low this season. The wing will be filled with a variety of faces, but Bryant wanted Mack in the post with Riley.
The freshman is just up from Whale Branch Middle School. Warriors guard Sharrin Reed said the newcomer has played well.
"She gets back on defense, she blocks shots, she posts up pretty good," Reed said. "The only thing she needs to do is work on her shot and some of her moves."
Moultrie and Mack are the Warriors' only senior starters, of only three seniors on the roster. Mack's maturation has taken her from a street-ball-playing sophomore to a team-first leader who earned a heap of postseason recognition last season.
And she has plenty of support.
Bryant hopes the balance helps Whale Branch contend for a new-look Region 5-A. Ridgeland and Hardeeville are gone. Denmark-Olar is in. The region shrank from eight schools to six, and Branchville doesn't have a girls basketball program, meaning five teams will compete for the region title.
The region crown has been the Warriors' only concrete goal.
Bryant seemed surprised when told the state's coaches had ranked Whale Branch No. 8 in Class 1-A during the preseason. Denmark-Olar is slotted No. 3 to start the season.
"I think we can (win region) if we stay focused," Bryant said. "If we win the region, we'll let everything else take care of itself."
2012-13 TEAM PREVIEWS
Coach: Bernadette Ulmer (3rd year, 21-29)
2011-12 results: 6-11 overall, 5-5 region
Notable losses: Only graduated one senior
Top returning players: G Daisja Cannon, JR; G Alisha Varela, JR
Key newcomers: None
Coach's prognosis: "We are looking forward to this season," Ulmer said. "We plan to challenge every team we meet on the basketball court this season. We are determined to play well together and to work hard to achieve goals. We are committed to advance through the playoff rounds."
SCISAA Region 1-AA
Coach: Joe Matheny (first year)
2011-12 results: 9-12 overall, 6-6 region
Notable losses: F Katherine Neal (8.8 ppg); C Megan Kahn (3.3 ppg); C Megan DeBardelaben, SR (3.8 ppg -- out with knee injury)
Top returning players: F Miranda Weslake, JR (17.6 ppg); G Charlotte Delfosse, SR (6.2 ppg); G Kiana Fortner, FR (3.0 ppg)
Key newcomers: G Mary Catherine Carmody, SR; F Carli Cline, JR (Beaufort High transfer)
Coach's prognosis: "If the girls keep up the hard work, I believe the state playoffs are within reach," Matheny said.
Coach: Lillian Aldred (third year, 20-25)
2011-12 results: 7-14 overall, 1-7 region
Notable losses: All five starters graduated
Top returning players: G Jordan Fields, SR; G Mattie Hibbs, FR
Key newcomers: C Monique Jones, FR
Coach's prognosis: "We are young this year but we have high expectations," Aldred said. "We have the potential for a great season."
Coach: Lonnie Roberts (ninth year, 126-118)
2011-12 results: 20-5 overall, 9-1 Region 7-AAA; Lost to Crestwood in the second round of the Class 3-A playoffs
Notable losses: G Alex Bailey, F Monique Bryant, G Jennifer Giles, G Tibra Wheeler, F Shakeria Kitty
Top returning players: G Annidet Giles, JR; F Johnnie Gaston, JR; G Dynasty Mervin, JR; F Alexis Manuel, SO; F Amber Klitzsch, SO
Key newcomers: G Tiffany Banks, SO; G Tatyana Fripp, JR; G Diamon Smalls, SO; G Autumu Card, SO; G Rickii Alexander, JR; F Monique Whitley, SR
Coach's prognosis: "This will be a complete overhaul," Roberts said. "With five new starters, we are young and inexperienced. We lost five seniors from last year's team, which had one of the most successful seasons in school history.
"We will rely on defense, quickness and hustle to win games."
Hilton Head Christian Academy
SCISAA Region 3-AAA
Coach: Kenny Conroy (2nd year, 13-13)
2011-12 results: 13-13 overall; Lost to Laurence Manning in the first round of the playoffs
Notable losses: Lauren Davis (13.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Addison Bensch (4.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg), Kelly Humes (1.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg), Ki Ki Gerdt, Becky Woods.
Top returning players: Andy Anderson (4.8 ppg, 3.1 spg, 2.4 rpg), Francesca Guidobono (6.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Audrey Bensch (4.8 ppg, 3 spg, 2.8 rpg).
Key newcomers: Macee Tamminen, Ziarre Doe, Hannah Reynolds, Bria McCarthy, Monica Bundy
Coach's prognosis: "(We) look to improve on (our) 13-13 record with a young team," Conroy said. "Team will rely on overall speed, defensive pressure and transition basketball in hopes to get back into state tournament."
Hilton Head Island High
Coach: Dave Greenberg (ninth year, 103-99)
2011-12 results: 20-6 overall, 9-1 Region 7-AAA; Lost in second round of Class 3-A playoffs to Marlboro County
Notable losses: G/F Sabrina Drammis (all-state, region player of the year, 15.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 6.2 spg), F Jamese Franklin (7.2 rpg, 3.5 spg), G/F Tashawna Washington (2.9 spg)
Top returning players: G Lauryn Bush, 5-8 SO (8.8 ppg, 2.2 apg, 5.5 spg), F Americal Jenkins 5-11 SO (5.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg); F Zion Campbell, 6-3 SO; F Shy Flemming, 5-9 SR; G Macy King, 5-6 SR, G Rachel Friend, 5-5; G Brennan O'Gorman, 5-7
Key newcomers: PG Savannah Reier, 5-6 FR; G Austin Seelbach, 5-9, 8th Grade; F Areli Fernandez, 5-10 SR
Coach's prognosis: "We're very young, but have the potential to be competitive," Greenberg said. "We have decent size."
Hilton Head Prep
SCISAA Region 3-AAA
Coach: Dan Sheehan (First year, 0-0)
2011-12 results: 8-17 overall, 3-7 region, lost in first round of playoffs
Notable losses: G Jill Brunori (Wake Forest signee lost to ACL injury), G Sarah Hancock, G Amber Erkan, F Allie Jaccard.
Top returning players: Sr. G Halie Parker (8.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.3 spg), Sr. G Abby Miles (4.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Sr. G Maggie Gasser (5.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg), Sr. G Brooke Churchich (5 ppg, 3.8 rpg), Sr. F Grace Anderson (5.8 ppg, 8 rpg), Fr. F Maddie McDonald.
Coach's prognosis: "Our team will work hard to play great team defense and be smart and opportunistic on offense," Sheehan said. "Our deep senior class ... has the potential to put together a very successful season."
Coach: Frederick Toomer
2011-12 results: This is the consolidated school's first year; Ridgeland High lost in the Lower State semifinals
Thomas Heyward Academy
SCISAA Region 1-AA
Coach: Gary Mazzanna (fifth year, 94-37)
2011-12 results: 27-0 overall, 10-0 region; SCISAA Class 2-A state champions
Notable losses: Caitlyn Cooler (12.3 ppg, 5.6 apg, 4.9 rpg, SCISAA Class 2-A co-player of the year); Ashlie Layman (9.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg); Kayla Canavan (10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg); Brianna Kelnhoffer
Top returning players: Brielle Jungblut, SR (14.2 ppg, 6.4 spg, region player of year); Jamie Malphrus, SR (12.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.5 spg); Taylor Ernestine, SR (3.4 ppg, 4.1 spg, 2.6 apg); Chandler Cook, SR (2.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
Key newcomers: G/F Ellie Bryant, 8th Grade; G Sissy Quick, JR; C/F Beth Malphrus, JR; F Hallie Malphrus, JR; G Allison Brendlen, JR
Coach's prognosis: "How well this team does will depend upon the development of the newcomers," Mazzanna said. "This team is quicker than a year ago. It will depend on its defensive intensity and pressure to score points. It must stay away from injury and fouls in order to be successful. The goal is to win region and get to the state tournament, where anything can happen."
Coach: Wilbert Bryant (third year, 18-22)
2011-12 results: 13-7 overall, 9-3 region; Lost in the second round of the playoffs
Notable losses: F Deborah Fields (6.0 rpg)
Top returning players: F S'Nitra Mack (12 ppg, 7 rpg); PG Kemoni Jenkins (6 apg, 6 spg); G Kenyada Moultrie (2.7 spg, 2 apg)
Key newcomers: F Jonae Riley, FR
Coach's prognosis: "Our goal this year is to win the region and advance further in the state playoffs," Bryant said. "We will be a mixture of experience along with several newcomers. Observing the team, it seems that the attitude is right for us to achieve all of our goals. We are looking forward to a very successful season."