By KEVIN LYNCH
Daily Record Sports Writer
BERLIN — Former Triway player and assistant coach Brian Kiper is coming home for a brief visit. He will be bringing with him a team of top-notch females hoopsters, the reigning 3A champions in the state of South Carolina.
The girls from Myrtle Beach High School will be playing two games in the eighth Classic in the Country Challenge this weekend at the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center.
“I talked with some people I coached with and some former players I used to coach who are now coaching or still around the game of basketball that want to come,” Kiper said. “Triway girls coach B.J. Sanderson, who actually brought his team down here this summer to do some scrimmaging, has mentioned he wanted to come see us play, and the Clear Fork boys coach has talked about coming to watch as well.
“It will be a fun experience for me, but it will be a great experience for these girls,” he added. “For several of them, aside from a couple AAU tournaments, they don’t get out of South Carolina very often, especially to the cold of Ohio in the middle of January. It will be an interesting experience for them.”
Kiper says he hopes his team benefits from the exposure and from playing against two of the better teams in Ohio in Toledo Start and Twinsburg.
“We have a fairly good team, and we wanted to get some good competition and take the girls on the road and try to get some exposure for our girls,” Kiper said. “It’s a great opportunity to come back home and see some friends and family who don’t normally get a chance to see this team play. They will get to now.”
Kiper explained in South Carolina they play in regions instead of leagues. The regions are made up of teams of similar school size. There are six teams in each region, and the top four teams make the playoffs.
“We’re a 3A school, which is one step down from the largest division. We just don’t have a whole lot of competition in our region,” Kiper said.
“We played in the Beach Ball Classic the week before Christmas. The last three years we played in that and didn’t get much competition until around the third round of the playoffs,” he continued. “I like the timing of the Classic in the Country and told them we want to play the best they have to offer. That’s what we’re coming for. We want good competition in the middle of the weaker part of our schedule.”
The Start Spartans are ranked 23rd nationally, with a pair of premier players in 6-4 Azia Bishop and Ohio State-bound point guard Maleeka Kynard. That dynamic duo provides the inside-outside threat for the Spartans. Another 6-4 post, CeDra Evans will pose problems for the shorter Seahawks of Myrtle Beach.
“The one weakness we have is that we’re not very tall,” Kiper said. “Our front line is basically 5-11, 5-10, 5-10. We have to do some things to combat the fact that we don’t have a lot of height. We do that with our team defense and we like to push the ball offensively.
“We try to pressure the guards outside to keep the ball away from the posts as much as possible,” he continued.
The Seahawks return seven of the top eight players from last year’s championship team that went 29-1. So far this year the girls are 7-3 (through Jan 6), having lost twice at the Beach Ball Classic, and falling in a tournament in Columbia, S.C., against one of the top 4A schools in the state.
“We wanted to beef up our schedule,” Kiper said. “We wanted to challenge ourselves. Our record isn’t great and not where we wanted it to be, but we feel these challenges are going to pay off for us down the road.”
Myrtle Beach is led by seniors Shatia Cole, Danielle Cooper, DJ Hunter, Demetria Keith, Austin Thompson and Keyaurna Wilson. Junior point guard Khadijah Sessions is ranked No. 12 in her class by the College Girls Basketball Report. She makes things happen on the floor.
The girls have half a day of school on Friday, Jan. 14, as the semester ends. The team will leave Myrtle Beach Friday afternoon and drive up to West Virginia and spend the night and arrive in Berlin early Saturday morning, with a 5 p.m. tipoff against Start.
“We’ve got an hour time slot scheduled at one of the elementary schools in the district so we can get our legs back from the bus ride, get some shooting in and walk through some sets and get ready to go,” Kiper said.
The Seahawks then play in the Sunday nightcap against undefeated Twinsburg and their 6-4 star Malina Howard.