Mount Airy coach Howard Mayo is constantly pushing his Lady Bear basketball team to run in practice.
Mayo wants his girls to push the ball on offense, press on defense, and force the opposition to get into its bench. He believes his team’s depth is its biggest strength for the upcoming basketball season, and he wants to utilize his deep talent to its maximum potential.
“We’re a fairly experienced team that just has a lot of girls who can come in and do a good job,” Mayo said. “Running will allow our depth to come into play. You may hang with us for a little while, but can you hang with us for 32 minutes?”
The Lady Bears will return eight players this year who at some point in their varsity career posted double-digits in scoring, but Mayo believe his rotation could go 10-deep. Mount Airy is coming off an 18-7, 8-4 season when the Bears finished third in the conference and made it to the second round of the state playoffs.
Coach Mayo says the best part of having such an experienced team is their ability to listen and easily learn in the early stages of practice. Two of Mount Airy’s returning players this season are all-Conference selections Ayano Shelton and Jo Snow.
Shelton is the senior leader of this Mount Airy team coming off a successful season when she averaged 15 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Her versatile game out of the small forward position will create a lot of different problems for opposing defenses.
“Ayano does a lot of things well,” Mayo said. “She has a high basketball IQ, and she’s what I call a matchup nightmare… She has the skill set to take them off the dribble and to make post moves. It’s just a matter of what the other team wants to do.”
Snow was a freshman point guard forced into a starter’s role last year after Skyler Flippen suffered an ACL injury. Mayo knew Snow had a ton of talent, so he wasn’t overly surprised when the freshman posted solid numbers such as 11.5 points and three assists per game last season.
Flippen will return to the court this season. Her and Snow are both point guards by trade, but they will need to find the right mix in the backcourt if the Bears are going to succeed. So far, they’ve adjusted well in the preseason.
“We’ve talked about when one has the ball, the other can be the two-guard,” Mayo said. “It doesn’t feel like one of them has to be the primary ball-handler, which is a good thing. I think it provides some versatility.”
Madison Hall will join Snow and Flippen in the backcourt this season. Cora Bledsoe, Madeline Mayfield, Sarah Lankford and Alexis France will help round out the rotation in the frontcourt. The Mount Airy coach called each of those players “very good athletes” who understand the game.
Even further down the line, Coach Mayo believes players such as Sadie Brooks and Megan Fleming could provide impact minutes this season. Mount Airy is stacked with options, and the competition in practice could continue to improve the Bears as a whole.
“When you compete with your teammates, you’re making each other better. And when you make your teammate better, you’re ultimately making the entire team better. That’s the big thing, and we talk about the name on the front of the jersey is what matters,” Mayo said.
Mayo can’t wait to see what works best for his squad when the season gets rolling on Friday against Wesleyan Christian Academy at the “Headliners Challenge” in High Point.
However, the Lady Bears knows they have a stiff test ahead of them. The past 10 1A state championship have all come from the Northwest Conference, and even an experienced group like Mount Airy could have some problems against foes like Winston-Salem Prep and Bishop McGuinness.
“I think the girls are confident,” Mayo said. “I think they want to be pushed, and they want to raise their level of play. The girls are very excited for the first game, and they’re excited to find out how good they can be this year.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16