GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Experience, fast-paced play key to Mitchell’s success

  • Paige Johnson

LEDGER – Mitchell High School’s girls’ basketball team will look to an experienced roster to improve on this past year’s 16-11 finish. 

The Lady Mountaineers return several starters from this past year’s team, including the team’s top three scorers – Hannah McMahan, Paige Johnson and Marley Cloer. 

McMahan, the team’s starting point guard, looks poised to improve on her junior campaign that saw her post team-highs in points per game (12), assists per game (4.8) and steals per game (2.7). 

Mitchell’s fourth-year head coach Zack McCartha, who led the team to a 50-31 record in his first three seasons, said McMahan gives the Mountaineers their spark. 

“Hannah is, without a doubt, our most important player,” he said. “She does a little bit of everything. She leads us in assists and she rebounds and plays defense. She sets the tone for everybody. She’s a coach’s dream.”

Johnson and Cloer, who averaged 10.9 and 10.1 points per game as sophomores this past season, will also be relied on heavily to continue providing scoring. 

“Game to game, it’ll depend on how much we need them to score,” McCartha said. “We need them to always be playing defense and rebounding.”

McCartha said he is hoping to see seniors Shea Laws and Maddie Biddix take on increased roles this season. Laws scored 4.8 points per game and pulled down 3.4 rebounds per game this past season while Biddix scored 1.8 points per game. 

“Those two are capable of making shots,” McCartha said. “They can really change the course of a game if they get going.”

McCartha said defensively, he expects the team to follow the lead of junior Jill Pittman. As a sophomore this past season, Pittman scored six points a game, but she tied with Cloer for second on the team in steals per game with 1.5. 

McCartha said she has a knack for finding the ball. 

“Jill is probably our best defender,” McCartha said. “She has come a long way.”

This year’s Mitchell team features no players over six feet tall. The team’s tallest player is sophomore Chandra Jenkins, who measures in at 5-10. 

McCartha said his team will have to work with what size they have and the season will be “down low by committee,” but he added he is hopeful Jenkins can learn to play physically in the paint. 

“Chandra has come a long way,” McCartha said. “She’s gotten stronger and she should have a big impact on our team down low. We’re not big, so we’ll have to rebound as a team.”

With Mitchell’s size limitations comes a new approach to the team’s tempo – always fast. 

“We’re trying to play more up-tempo than before,” McCartha said. “That’s been an adjustment for some of them. We’re trying to play as fast as we can possibly play.”

The Mountaineers finished 5-5 in the Western Highlands Conference this past season and after winning a first-round playoff game over Mountain Island Charter, fell at Avery County in overtime in the second round.

McCartha said the conference should still be tough and features plenty of young talent. 

“A lot of the Western Highlands teams are young,” he said. “There are a lot of new faces.”

Mountain Heritage won the Western Highlands Conference this past year by breezing through conference play with a 10-0 record. 

Avery finished right behind the Cougars with an 8-2 conference record. 

“Mountain Heritage is still at the top,” McCartha said. “They’re the cream of the crop still.”


2019-20 Lady Mountaineers schedule

11/26 6 p.m. at Burns (W) 73 - 43

12/12 6:30 p.m. at Watauga (L) 47-45

12/17 6:30 p.m. at McDowell

12/19 6:30 p.m. vs. Rosman

12/20 6:30 p.m. at Ashe County

12/27 TBA at North Henderson 

12/28 TBA at North Henderson

12/31 3 p.m. vs. Watauga

1/2 5:30 p.m. vs. Draughn

1/4 6:30 p.m. vs. McDowell

1/7 6:30 p.m. at Charles D. Owen

1/8 6 p.m. vs. East Rutherford

1/10 TBA vs. Mountain Heritage

1/14 6:30 p.m. at Madison

1/17 6:30 p.m. vs. Polk County

1/18 1:30 p.m. at T. Wingate Andrews

1/21 6:30 p.m. vs. Avery County

1/23 6 p.m. at Crest

1/24 6:30 p.m. vs. Charles D. Owen

1/28 TBA at Mountain Heritage

1/31 6:30 p.m. vs. Madison

2/4 6:30 p.m. at Polk County

2/7 4 p.m. at Avery County



2019-20 Lady Mountaineers roster

No. Name Pos. Gr. Ht.

3 Jill Pittman Jr. 5-7

4 Cassity Cook SG, SF Jr. 5-6

5 Chandra Jenkins So. 5-10

10 Marley Cloer SG, SF Jr. 5-7

12 Hannah McMahan PG, SG Sr. 5-3

14 Shea Laws PF Sr. 5-9

20 Paige Johnson SF, PF Jr. 5-8

23 Maddie Biddix SG, SF Sr. 5-6

24 Emilee Slagle Sr. 5-5

25 Peyton Pittman Sr. 5-5

30 April Huskins PF, C Sr. 5-8

40 Carissa Blevins Jr. 5-7