Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 4, 2013

Youth movement on the floor for G-Girls

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD, Va. — It has been a few years since the Graham girls basketball team was able to reach the state tournament.

Guess what the goal is for the 2013-14 version of the G-Girls.

"Everybody wants to go to state so we are going to try our hardest," Graham junior Bethany Evans said. "We have got to play together as a team and we will do good."

 youth movement is taking place for the G-Girls, with Evans being the oldest of the projected five starters when Graham opens its season on Friday by hosting cross-town rival Bluefield.

"It is very tough," said Graham head coach Tracy Raban, whose G-Girls had originally been slated to open with Giles. "We open up with Bluefield, I don't like it at all, but we will take it. We have got to go play it, they are ready to play, we are ready to play.

“The kids are excited about it and we will just take it for what it is and go and give it our best shot."

They will do it with a young, but talented collection of athletes, including the 5-foot-7 Evans, 5-7 sophomore Emaleigh Gallinger, and a trio of freshmen, including 6-foot-2 Dejah Carter, 5-5 point guard Lexi Kiser and 5-7 Jia Coppola.

"I am asking them grow up quick, we have a big test Friday to open the season with Bluefield, our cross-town rival," Raban said. "They have played against those kids, it is a big test.

“I think it might take them a couple of weeks, but I think they will be able to accept that role."

Gallinger had a solid freshman campaign for Graham, which finished with a 13-11 record last season, suffering an overtime loss to Grayson County in the opening round of the Region 2A West tournament.

"I was pleased, but I think we could have done better," Gallinger said. "I feel like it was good for me to play with older kids and they taught me a lot, Coach Raban has taught me a lot, but I have a lot to work on."

The 5-7 Evans, who is also a cheerleader at Graham, uses her athleticism inside for the G-Girls, doing whatever it takes to help her team, having stepped her game up as the season progressed last season.

"I guess I get warmed up more and I get used to it more, I hope to get off to a little bigger start this year," Evans said. "I am not that big really so you have to fight for position, but I do like playing down there and protect the basket."

She will have some help this season from Carter, the daughter of WVVA news anchorman Greg Carter, who provides the G-Girls size that can't be taught.

"We have never had the height advantage so now with her we are really excited to use that to be a lot better," Evans said.

While Evans and Gallinger will start for the G-Girls, 5-foot-1 Alysia Leung will serve her normal role of doing whatever it takes to get the ball for her team, and also being a steady presence for a young club, overcoming her lack of size with a large dose of heart.

"You have got to want the ball, if it is on the floor you had better be on the floor trying to get it, we want it on our end of the floor," said Leung, who works to make her size an advantage. "For defense it is easier for me to squat and move so it is easier for me to get around the floor.

"I try to lead the team, but I hope people look up to me. I look up to some of the people that are younger than me so it helps both ways."

Raban knows Leung, who has played on varsity for three years, can be counted on to do what the team needs.

"She knows what to expect, she knows what I want, she knows what my program is about, she is a leader of this team," Raban said. "The kids look up to her on and off the court. Not having her on the court she is a leader on the bench and she accepts her role, no complaining, she accepts her role and she goes out there and gives you 110 percent no matter what."

Gallinger is a familiar name for Graham basketball fans. Her sister, Chelsea, was a standout for the G-Girls and is now playing soccer at Kentucky Christian. Emaleigh comes from the same mold.

"Emaleigh is just another Gallinger, she is a kid who can get on the floor," Raban said. "We look on the offensive side of the court for Emaleigh, but also as a leader. The kids look up to her, they picked her as a captain for our team as a sophomore so that is big, and shows you what kind of role she has with these kids.

"Emaleigh is a kid I have got to have on the floor and producing night in and night out."

She will try her best. Gallinger has shown potential in the past, having won the Pocahontas Coal Association/Bluefield Daily Telegraph Player of the Week award in her first week of varsity action last season.

 "We are excited, Gallinger said. "I look up to a lot of the older players and I hope some people look up to me. I think we can get very far if we just play together and work as a team and just listen to the coaches.

“We get along great, we work together good."

As one of three juniors and the oldest member of the starting cast for the G-Girls, Evans will try to provide points and rebounding, but also won't forget simply trying to be there as a veteran of the team, while using her gifts as cheerleader to help on the court.

"I think it makes me stronger and it makes me jump a little higher so that is good," said Evans, on how cheerleading helps on the court. "I hope everybody looks up to me. I try to keep everybody's heads up, but I look up to everybody and we have just all got to work together and be supportive."

Raban likes what Evans brings to the G-Girls, especially her tendency not to be afraid to mix it up with larger girls.

"Bethany is all over the floor, she is not going to put up a lot of points on the board, she is going to be that 'I am going to be in the right place at the right time'," Raban said. "She gets on the board, she gives us second and third chances, and defensively she will match up with anybody.

“She doesn't care height or size or weight, she will get there and battle with the best of them."

So will these G-Girls, starting on Friday against the archrival Beavers.

"Everybody is excited on both teams and everybody is working hard," Evans said. "We are really excited, trying to get focused."

Graham has just 10 players on the roster, including 5-8 senior Bailee Poe, the junior duo of 5-6 MyKenzie Roach and 5-1 Ashley Rasnake, along with 5-7 sophomore Casey Spencer.

All have the same exceptions that Leung has for the G-Girls.

"I could definitely see us working hard to get to where we want to be this year," Leung said. "We do want to go to state so we are going to work hard to try and achieve that goal of ours.

“We just have to come together as a team, work hard. We have got to keep focused and heads up, and focus on one game at a time."

—Contact Brian Woodson

bwoodson@bdtonline.com