The undefeated Mount Airy Lady Bears basketball team will look to continue its impressive start when they host the Mount Airy Christmas Classic on Friday and Saturday.
Mount Airy’s first game will have some international flavor when the the Lady Bears play Team Energy, an Australian travel team at 1:30 p.m. The rest of the schedule for Friday at Mount Airy High School features the Mount Airy boys vs. Team Dolphins (Australia) at 3 p.m., North Surry girls vs. Martinsville, Va., at 4:30 p.m., and North Surry boys vs. Starmount at 6 p.m.
Saturday’s schedule is North Surry girls vs. Team Energy at 1:30 p.m., North Surry boys vs. Team Dolphins (Australia) at 3 p.m., Mount Airy girls vs. Martinsville, Va. at 4:30 p.m. and Mount Airy boys vs. Starmount at 6 p.m.
Admission to the tournament is $5.
For the past four years the Lady Bears have competed in the Mountain Valley/Northwest Christmas Bash, a tournament won by the Northwest Conference each year. Tournament sites included North Wilkes, Surry Central, West Wilkes and East Surry.
“We were glad North Surry and us were going to be partners in this,” Mount Airy coach Howard Mayo said. “Both schools have a good fan base.
“This gives us a chance to play people we won’t ever see. (The Australian team) is arriving in the U.S. on (Dec.) 26. This will be their first action here on their tour.”
The Aussies will get some stiff competition from the get-go, taking on the 10-0 Lady Bears. Teams are forced to choose their poison against a Mount Airy team that has a variety of weapons on offense. What the Lady Bears lack in height, they make up for with hustle and excellent outside shooting.
Alex Atkins, Ayano Shelton and Jasmine Varney all average double figures in scoring, and Mount Airy has had numerous players step up in the absence of Kathryn Beasley, an all-conference selection last year who has missed all but three games this season with an injury.
“I’ve been really pleased with how the team has gelled,” Mayo said. “Our team as a collective group has stepped up and worked well together, and not lost a step. (Beasley) is by far our best post defender. She’s a very strong player. She’s a four-year varsity player who is very tough to handle 16 feet and in.
“We’ve always had pretty good balance. This group really personifies that. We’ve had five different leading scorers. Not a whole lot of other teams can say that. Our guards Davi Barbour (3.3 assists per game) and Mikayla Seivers (6.6 assists per game) have done an outstanding job getting them the ball when they are open.”
Mount Airy has its share of sharpshooters — knocking down 83 3-pointers in 10 games.
While Mount Airy has won some of its games by impressive margins, the Lady Bears have also proven they can win the close ones. Mount Airy won two close contests against North Surry (49-47 and 58-50) and defeated a much-improved Atkins team 59-56 on Dec. 13.
Following the tournament, the Lady Bears go into the heart of the conference schedule, and Mayo said his team is not content with its accomplishments so far.
“We’ve got to improve in our half-court execution offensively. Defensively we have to continue to get better at boxing out, keeping teams at one shot per possession. We have eight-time defending champion Bishop McGuinness, Winston-Salem Prep, who was the runner-up in the Mary Garber Holiday Classic, and a tough East Surry team. We definitely have some challenges ahead of us.
“I think having five seniors, they understand we’ve had a heck of a start, but that there are areas in each of their games that they can be better. They are not going to be satisfied with a 10-0 start.”
North Surry’s girls come into the holiday tournament with a 5-5 record, although several of the Lady Greyhounds’ losses have been close. Malaya Johnson leads the team in scoring at 13.5 points per game. She also averages 10.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.1 blocks. Erin March is not far behind at 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
Coach Shane Slate said his team has been inconsistent through its first 10 games.
“Defensively we need to eliminate some breakdowns we’ve had. Offensively, our execution needs quite a bit of work,” Slate said. “We talked about making two or three more winning plays being the difference. Last year we made the winning plays at the end, and we won a lot of close ball games.”
Following the Christmas tournament, the Lady Greyhounds open conference play against West Stokes.
East Surry will be on the road at the Alleghany Christmas Invitational. The Lady Cardinals (5-5 overall) will take on Elkin and Starmount. Sydney Mosley leads the way for the Cards at 16.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game. Gabi Jessup averages 15.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
Surry Central is off until Jan. 3 when it opens conference play against Carver. The Lady Eagles (7-3 overall) went 1-2 at the Mary Garber Holiday Classic. The Eagles are led in scoring by Cassidy Joyner, who averages 16.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 steals a game. Sarah Bruce also averages double figures with 10.3 points to go with 4.9 rebounds per game.