Thompson facing tall task
Coach Ina Thompson has built Porter Ridge High into the premiere girls basketball program in Union County.
Now Thompson faces the challenge of moving into a league mostly made up of big Charlotte schools. The task is even taller considering four starters graduated from last year's team that reached the 4A state semifinals.
But with the consistent success Thompson and the Pirates have had in the past, it would be a mistake to count these girls out in July.
The Pirates are coming off their best year ever with a record 26 wins against four losses and the deepest playoff run in the school's eight years of existence.
Their banner season included a 19-game winning streak.
Four-year starters Jada and Jasmine Huntley were the undisputed leaders. Jada Huntley, a 5-8 wing forward who averaged 12.0 points and 5.4 rebounds, signed with Catawba College.
Jasmine Huntley, a 5-2 point guard, signed with UNC Pembroke after topping the team in scoring (15.5 ppg), steals (3.9 spg) and assists (3.3 apg).
The Pirates also lost their leading rebounder, Justice McKinney (10.0 rpg), and top shot blocker, Megan Madanski (1.6 bpg).
"You just don't actually replace them," said Thompson of the four seniors. "We have had a certain style of play and we have to make a game plan that fits the players on the floor. We know we have huge holes to fill."
Expected to help fill the void are seniors Jade Jones and Bobbi Jones and junior Kara Cunningham.
"I look forward to what those three girls can do," said Thompson. "Jada, Kara, and Bobbi have the potential to score 15 points a game. I look forward to what they do. It is their team now."
The Pirates are trying to maintain a tradition that includes a combined record of 113-21 over the past five seasons.
Sophomore Hannah Smith and junior Ireland Massey, last year's eighth-man, will help give the Pirates what Thompson calls "a more post-oriented team."
Porter Ridge recently finished a team camp at Guilford College with a 6-4 record.
Thompson felt her team got something out of it, pointing out three of the wins were by three points or less "against good programs."
Because of realignment, Porter Ridge is leaving the comfort zone of the South Piedmont 4A/3A Conference and joining the Southwestern 4A Conference that includes Butler, Independence, East Meck, Rocky River, Myers Park, and Garinger.
"There is a quicker tempo the way teams in Charlotte play," said Thompson. "Most teams will play man-to-man (defense) and I have tried to get our girls accustomed to that. We have to really work on taking care of the basketball."
Thompson knows the new schedule will be tougher. She had to endure some injuries to key players last season and started 6-3, but it may have been a blessing in disguise because several young players got some valuable court experience during that stretch.
"I had four freshman on varsity last season and two or three will have to step into starting roles this season," Thompson said. "I know now and for the future that we have something to look forward to. It's a vision that we talk about."
Bobbi Jones, a versatile forward, is the only four-year varsity player on the roster.
"Bobbi has been a leader since her freshman year," Thompson said. "This is her year and she is used to leading the girls."
High school basketball practice begins on Nov. 1.