By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. —
Keep it close and keep it secret once the game begins. Every morning, Whitney Saunders makes the announcements to let all of Tazewell High School know exactly what is happening.
However, on basketball nights, the Lady Bulldog standout makes it a point not share any secrets about what she is feeling in the midst of working hard for another Tazewell victory.
In the last contest, a 65-61 thriller over Abingdon, the senior point guard tossed in a game-high 24 points and that helped the green machine (8-7) to a much-needed victory which also vaulted Saunders to the Pocahontas Coal Association/Bluefield Daily Telegraph Player of the Week award.
“I am excited and pleased (about the honor),” beamed Saunders. “When I got the call, that was so special. It’s the first time I have won something like this and it means a lot.
“It’s not just about me, it’s about my team. When something like this comes along then it usually means the team is doing well.”
Coach Jason Southworth certainly appreciates both Saunders’ team and individual concept.
“To be honest, Whitney has been playing really well all year. It’s not about one, it’s about everybody,” Southworth said. Whitney gets points from every other player, too. I count on Whitney for just about everything at some point during a game.
“She is a big part of the whole offense. She is definitely one of our leaders, helping to keep us game ready. She doesn’t get rattled, just a strong competitor.”
Saunders is very complimentary of all her teammates and they return the favor.
“She makes sure we get the job done, and Whitney really deserves this,” Tazewell sharpshooting senior Haley Christian said. “Ever since 8th grade our four seniors have dreamed of making this year special.”
Kaley Holloway, a player Saunders sees as the team’s top rebounder, adds, “Whitney is a team leader. She tells us to leave everything except the game behind when we take the court. Coach (Southworth) is all about family and Whitney believes that.”
The lone junior on the team, Ally Lee, a player Saunders says is the team’s defensive specialist, says, “Whitney is a smart player. She knows what to do and when to do it, either offensively or defensively. She helps me on offense and I try to pay her back with my defense.”
Veteran senior post player Autumn Hash, a former weekly award winner and the powerhouse as Saunders notes, says, “It (player of the week) is a great accomplishment for any athlete. I’m proud of Whitney.
“She, as our point guard, is the leader out there, and she has done a good job of making us all bond together and make the most of our talents.”
Saunders, who comes from a highly competitive family — her father, David, was a three-sport player (Tazewell Class of ‘76) as was her brother, David (Class of ‘06) — so she has been well-grounded in giving a complete effort.
“Both of them have influenced me, my dad helps with technique and ways to deal with situations and my brother has carried that forward,” Saunders said. “Things change in sports, new generation, different styles. So, Dad and David have done a lot to help me adjust.”
Saunders is also a student of the game when it comes to her own peer group and says the high quality programs at both Graham and Richlands have helped to shape her own game.
In a recent big game, the Lady Dogs narrowly lost at Richlands and one of Whitney’s peers has been a motivator for her.
“I have definitely learned from watching Brittany Allen at Richlands,” notes Saunders. “Brittany (who broke the school scoring record in that contest) is always motivated and always works hard. It never hurts to learn from what good players do.”
Another good player, her cousin Tiffany Harris, is one of the key influences. Like Whitney, Tiffany was a multi-sport athlete and a top-notch softball player who was also an excellent student.
“Tiffany has been my role model my entire life,” says Saunders. “She has always had the best attitude, taught me a lot about softball and encouraged me to be myself.”
Saunders is the shortstop on the softball team coached by Tom Keene and, like basketball, enjoys being in the midst of the action.
“I do like to be in the middle of everything, not looking for attention but only because it is more fun,” Saunders said. “Getting those touches, being involved in the action, is what I like.
“You can’t be scared. That is probably the first thing, you have to take any opportunity in a game, shots, whatever it might be. Keep playing hard.”
As much as she loves sports, Saunders knows the sports scores are not the only ones that matter.
“My parents both work hard and they support me in everything I do (her mother, Vivian, is a teacher) and they have always made it clear how important school is,” Saunders said. “I think I have a level head on my shoulders and that comes from being raised in the kind home I have grown up in.
“I would love to take a shot at collegiate-level sports if I get an opportunity. As far as a career, I hope to study physical therapy at Radford University and make that my ultimate goal.”
Finally, a current goal has to do with knee pads and bruises for a young lady who is a great athlete but also a typical teen enjoying a special time in her life.
“I have bunches of new bumps and bruises after every game,” laughs Saunders, “but I have learned one thing — wear knee pads because I don’t really want my legs all beat up when the prom gets here.”�
Player of the Week Honorable Mention
Bluefield — Dazia Edwards, 22 pts., Jesslyn Fullerton, 16 pts., in two games.
Giles — Kelsey Mosley, 33 pts. in three games.
Graham — Lexi Kiser, 33 pts./week; Emaleigh Gallinger, 25 pts.; Dejah Carter, 20 pts./week plus 5 blocks at Grayson Co.; Jia Coppola, 10 pts., 6 steals, 6 rebounds at Grayson Co.
Grundy — Morgan Hall, 38 pts./week plus 15 rebounds vs. Richlands; Shelby Yates, 11 pts.
Hurley — Adrianna Cline 17 pts. in one game; Kourtney Cook, 10 pts.
James Monroe — Rebecca Sparks, 16 pts. in one game; Laine Shiflet, 15 pts.; Carter Shiflet 13 pts.
Montcalm — Heather Nicewander, 12 pts.; Hannah Johnson,12 pts./week.
Mount View — Keisha Johnson, 34 pts./week; Jasmine Lash, 24 pts./week, five 3-pointers at Independence; Tamia Joyce, 13 pts. in one game.
PikeView — Madison May, 53 pts./week and two clutch free throws for winning margin vs. James Monroe; Lyndsay Hatfield, 45 pts./week
Princeton — Ashley Culicerto 23 pts./week; Sarah Cole, 23 pts.; Kaleigh Barker 13 pts.
Richlands — Brittany Allen, broke school scoring record, scored 56 pts./week, had 4 assists, 3 steals in win over Grundy; Sarah Compton, 24 pts./week, plus 15 rebounds vs. Bluefield; Olivia Harmon, 35 pts.
River View — Kiersten Dority, 21 pts. in one game; Rebeckah Christian, 14 pts.; Kaitlyn Dobbs, 14 pts.
Tazewell —Autumn Hash, 21 pts.; Kaley Holloway, 13 pts., plus 10 rebounds vs. Richlands.
Summers County — Brittney Justice, 67 pts., 16.8 ppg, 28 rebounds, 17 assists, 14 steals in four wins.
Wyoming East — Bri Pertee 15 pts. in one game; Megan Davis 15 pts.
2013-14 Season Winners
Week 1: Morgan Hall, Grundy
Week 2: Brandy Morrison, Summers County
Week 3: Lexi Kiser, Graham
Week 4: Lyndsay Hatfield, PikeView
Week 5: Shelby Baker, Narrows
Week 6: Brittany Allen, Richlands
Week 7: Whitney Saunders, Tazewell