First Posted: 2/21/2009
After Bishop McGuinness handily defeated East Surry in Thursdays girls Northwest 1-A conference tournament championship game, the last thing many expected to hear was a name other than that of a Villain announced as the conferences most valuable player.
But as most who follow high school athletics know, it is a smart practice to expect the unexpected.
Coaches from around the league pegged East Surry junior guard Kelsey Long as the top performer in 2008-2009.
Long, who led her team into the final with a 21-point performance against rival Mount Airy two days earlier, was totally shocked, her eyes welling up with tears as her teammates and coaches surrounded her with embraces.
Long apparently made an impact on the minds of opposing coaches, leading the Cardinals in scoring this season and establishing herself as one of the most consistent offensive threats in a conference full of top-level teams.
I had no idea, Long said of her award. My dad said that he knew for a week and it was probably the hardest secret he ever kept from me.
East Surry coach Robert Smith said his now-star guard sets her self apart from other players by her work ethic and knowledge of the game.
I think the other coaches around the league have seen her mature and improve and she just plays hard, Smith said. She goes out, shes not real fancy, but you look at the box score and she is always going to be very consistent. She has kind of a calming effect. I think a lot of the kids look to her and have a lot of respect for her as a player and a person.
More of a point forward than a point guard, Long carried the majority of the ball handling duties for the Cardinals this season.
Smith said her size and versatility make her a hard player to guard.
Shes kind of that size where she is a hard matchup, Smith said. If you put a true point on her shes going to back her down, if you put a forward on her she can go around. Shes not afraid to go inside and she does have that touch from the perimeter that makes her a real matchup problem.
Also picked to the Northwest 1-A all-conference first team were Maggie McKee, Ellie Case and Taylor Hiatt of Mount Airy as well as Longs teammate Courtney Simmons.
Smith said Simmons, a slashing and penetrating guard, has brought a level-headed, aggressive and experienced style to his team for the past 3 1/2 years, adding that finding someone to fill her shoes after her graduation this year will be tough.
She is pretty much fearless, Smith said. Having played varsity for the past 3 1/2 years she kind of knows what to expect and that has certainly helped us all year long. Shes been big for us and she is going to be very difficult to replace.
Smith said having two players like Long and Simmons have made him look better as a coach.
They both made me look a lot smarter in the time they have been out there and I mean that sincerely, Smith said. You dont win without guards and I have been really fortunate to have two of the better ones in the conference playing together for the past three years.
East seniors Paige Honeycutt and Lekita Shuff also picked up honorable mention honors for the Cardinals.
Bears place three
Mount Airy senior forward Maggie McKee is a familiar name on the Northwest 1-A all-conference team, having been selected the past three seasons.
Mount Airy coach Howard Mayo said McKee is an all-conference performer because she brings versatility to both ends of the floor.
Not only can she score inside and outside, she also can defend inside and outside Mayo said. There have been times she ends up guarding a guard and times when she guards a bigger player and she can do that for us and that is invaluable.
McKee is proud of the Bears season, saying she thinks the 18-7 finish surprised a lot of people.
While she is used to being acknowledged for her play, the Cawtaba College tennis recruit maintains a level head and humility indicative of a true leader.
Its a great honor, McKee said of her selection. I dont consider myself better than the other seven players on my team. We all work together.
Mayo said McKee has contagious energy and toughness and also serves as a calming influence for his team.
McKee said she thinks the key to being a good player is to go all out all the time.
You cant play scared, she said. You cant be afraid to make a play and be a leader. I think the hardest people to play against are the ones that arent afraid to take it to the basket or turn it over.
Junior guard Ellie Case finished this season as Mount Airys leading scorer and has began to emerge as one of the top offensive threats in the conference.
Mayo said Case not only is a good offensive performer but more importantly brought defensive toughness to the Bears.
I think Ellie really brought leadership to the defensive end, Mayo said. She took on the responsibility of guarding the better players on other teams. Her scoring is going to be there for us but its that added dimension of her game to be able to defend which I think people in the conference recognized this year.
Sophomore Taylor Hiatt makes her first appearance on the all-conference list this season, and after a very strong second-year campaign, big things are no doubt still to come from the Bears most formidable inside presence.
Taylor has been our most consistent player, Mayo said. Shes our second leading scorer our leading rebounder and led our team in blocks.
Hiatt is in her second year as a starter and Mayo thinks she has improved significantly from her freshman season.
I think shes improved her ball handling and also improved her outside shot, he said. I think she could be one of the most effective players in the conference as she will continue to add and get better. Shes got some areas that she knows she needs to add and improve and she is willing to do that.
Freshman guard Jordan Hiatt also picked up honorable mention honors for the Bears.
Check tomorrows Mount Airy News for the boys Northwest 1-A all-conference selections.