Most of ERHS’s talented (and veteran) cast is back to defend its state title
HARRISONBURG – It will be nearly impossible for the East Rockingham High School girls’ basketball team to improve on last season’s Division 1 state championship season, which included a 30-1 record.
On the other hand, it’s quite possible these Eagles are just as fast and can be just as dominant.
“People thought we were fast last year? Just wait,” said ERHS senior center Meghan Nicholson, who became the 3-year-old school’s first basketball player to sign with a college in accepting a full scholarship to Division II Concord on Nov. 15.
East Rock graduated four players but only one starter, albeit the Shenandoah District, Region B and Division 1 Player of the Year, Chase Raynes. With seven returning players, including late call-ups from junior varsity last season in speedy guard Stacie Bailey and developing post player Melanie Kisling (now both juniors), the Eagles are primed for another big season, which began Monday night at home against Broadway.
A big season, that is, without using last year as a measuring stick.
“There’s a lot of people that are like, ‘Oh, we’re on a 28-game winning streak,’” Nicholson said. “But we’re a new team. That team is gone. We’re no longer state champions this year. We’ve got a new team, a new standard and have to live up to it again.”
But make no mistake, that standard is an ambitious one. Nicholson said the team wants to see if it can repeat as state champion. In doing so, the Eagles are taking a humble approach after some eye-opening scrimmages against juggernauts Millbrook (the defending Division 4 state champion) and Liberty Christian (last season’s VISAA Division 1 state runner-up) showed them what it felt like to be on the other end of a blowout.
“We still had this state champion air around us,” said Nicholson, who missed the Millbrook-LCA scrimmage with a sprained ankle but played in the one against Fort Defiance. “… It just shows us we’ve made our mark, but now it’s time to make our stain.”
The 5-foot-10 Nicholson will be one of the driving offensive forces for an East Rock team that outscored district opponents by nearly 20 points per game. True to the Eagles’ winning formula, she won’t be the only one. ERHS coach Paul Comer said his fast-paced offense would remain balanced.
Last season, just one ERHS player averaged double figures – then-freshman point guard Madison Comer (10.1 ppg).
Defensive stud Katie Dofflemyer is back to fill the shoes of Raynes at the front of Comer’s press. Comer also is asking Dofflemyer to assume a larger offensive role, taking the weight off Nicholson, Madison Comer and returning seniors Jessica Lam, a guard, and Sarah Cameron, a forward who is healthy after battling injuries over the last two seasons.
Lam and Cameron, who already has a partial D-II scholarship offer from Davis & Elkins, are receiving significant college interest.
Team speed, as Nicholson alluded to, should once again be a weapon.
“I would say we’re on the same level as last year’s team,” Paul Comer said. “Will we play that fast? I don’t know. I think that’s the remaining question. … It’s just a matter of some of these younger girls getting comfortable at the varsity level.”
Madison Comer shared point guard duties with recent graduate Olivia Dofflemyer, and the returning sophomore will likely be in a timeshare again, as Coach Comer tries to acclimate freshman R’Maani Rouse to varsity tempo.
“It’s actually awesome because she, as well as Stacie Bailey, go at it every day in practice,” Nicholson said of Rouse. “It’s like two thoroughbreds going at it in practice.”
Like Nicholson, Comer won’t make any comparisons to last year.
“We kinda buried everything,” he said.
Just how dominant were the Eagles last season? They finished with 28 straight wins and seemed to get better as their playoff run deepened. With a strong defense, East Rock’s margin of victory jumped from 18.3 in the district tournament to 22.7 during regionals and 28 in the state tournament.
Injuries to both Cameron and Nicholson could have derailed the Eagles. Instead, Cameron – a third-year captain who missed 15 games after tearing two ligaments and a meniscus in her knee – continued to display valuable leadership from the bench last season. Meanwhile, Nicholson played through a torn labrum in her shoulder, which she suffered during the Region B tournament.
Both players underwent surgery for their respective ailments in the offseason. They even carpooled to physical therapy sessions together, giving them plenty of time to talk about the senior seasons ahead of them.
Now, it’s here.