Lady Seahawks reload for another state title pursuit

In what was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Myrtle Beach High girls basketball team, head coach Jennifer Dennison has proven to be a master of construction. As the regular season comes to a close, the new-look Lady Seahawks find themselves in the familiar position of front-runners for the Region 7-4A championship.

They have done so despite playing in the most competitive region in Class 4A. Last week, No. 6-ranked Myrtle Beach beat No. 10 North Myrtle Beach 48-31, and No. 7 Wilson 42-41. Tuesday’s x-x win over St. James – the Lady Seahawks’ 10th straight – improved their overall record to 16-3 and ran their region mark to 6-0 to clinch at least a share of the crown.

Like all construction projects, Dennison credits her team’s hard work for its somewhat surprising rise to the top of the region standings. While it might seem odd to call a program that is seeking its fifth straight league title a true underdog, the Lady Seahawks didn’t seem like such a shoo-in when the horn sounded on last season and left them short of their goal of an eighth state championship.

Gone were five seniors – three of whom went on to play Division I college basketball – and multi-year starters who left a logjam of inexperienced players on the bench to fill some sizeable sneakers.  Rather than dwell on past glories, Dennison and her crew put their noses to the grindstone to continue the tradition of championship expectations.

“We lost our ‘Fab Five’ last year so we knew this was going to be a rebuilding year, but we never used that as an excuse,” said Dennison, who is in her sixth season as head coach of her alma mater. “We just told our young ladies to listen to what the coaches are telling them, get after it on the floor and play Lady Seahawks basketball.”

There’s still the matter of team chemistry, an elusive formula that’s essential for a strong foundation. Take a solid corps of seniors, including Ivy Collins and twins and tennis players Janell and Jalah Horton, mix in junior transfer and soccer goalie Asia Smith, junior spark plug Ajia Kelly, and a few more secret ingredients and what do you get? A pretty good recipe for a region and state title contender.

“We have a lot of girls that have been working hard and waiting for their opportunity to contribute and they are stepping up to the challenge,” said Dennison, who played in a state final for Myrtle Beach in 1992 and won two as an assistant in 2010 and 2011. “We just try to stay positive, build them up, and focus on being the best this team can be.”

The Lady Seahawks also rely on a couple of intangible qualities for success, ones that served them well in their thrilling comeback victory over Wilson last Friday. Trailing by double digits for much of the game, Myrtle Beach mounted a furious fourth-quarter rally capped by Smith’s putback with 9 seconds remaining. After giving Myrtle Beach its only lead of the game at 42-41, her block on the other end sealed it.

“Our will to win is what pushes us,” said Janell Horton, who also made some key plays down the stretch against Wilson. “Every practice, every game we push each other, we never give up, and we always believe in each other. I always have trust in them. I’ve had faith in my team from day one.”

Kelly, who has emerged as a floor general this season, made two late steals and layups in the win over Wilson. She agrees with Horton’s assessment, claiming that the high expectations at Myrtle Beach contribute to a winning mental edge: “We just don’t give up and we keep playing hard even when we’re down,” she said. ”We have the mindset to make it happen.”

The Lady Seahawks host Marlboro County on Tuesday (Feb. 6) before closing out the regular season at North Myrtle Beach on Thursday (Feb. 8). They hope their rebuilding project is sturdy enough to make a run for a state championship.

Photo by Prep Stars Media

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