MARSHVILLE — The Forest Hills girls basketball team has won the past two Rocky River Conference regular season and conference tournament championships and look poised to make it three straight under head coach Marc Richardson in 2021.
The Yellow Jackets bring back three starters from last year’s 18-8 overall team, including senior forward Hope Benson and sophomore guard Jamiyah Blakeney — who were named RRC Player of the Year in 2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively. Last season, Blakeney led the team in points per game (13.9) while adding 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 assist per game, while Benson averaged 11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 steals per game.
The Yellow Jackets are currently scheduled to start practice in less than two weeks — Monday, Dec. 7. Forest Hills first game of the 2021 season comes on the road against West Stanly on Jan. 13.
Forest Hills head coach Marc Richardson spoke with The Enquirer-Journal on Tuesday about how his team has handled the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and his expectations for the upcoming season.
Question: You’re coming off two straight Rocky River Conference championship seasons. How excited are you to get back on the court with your team?
Answer: I’m really excited about it. Having three starters back gives us a little continuity, so we’ll be able to get back to it and get back rolling. We did lose two athletic players who helped us a lot on defense — Tesha Brewer and Tiana Sloan — so we’re looking to plug those holes. But I’m just worried about the pandemic and how it has affected everybody as far as getting in the gym and getting started, but everybody is doing the same thing, so you just have to roll with the punches and play the hand you’re dealt.
Question: How has your coaching staff tried to handle the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on your preparation for the season?
Answer: It’s a little easier when you have workouts after school, because you already have them at school. But here in our area, unfortunately many of the kids don’t drive and a lot of the parents are working, so it’s a little bit more difficult to get them in the gym to try and make it happen. And then you have the restrictions of how many people can be in the gym at the same time. So the restrictions that COVID has mandated and the unavailability of parents to bring players or for us to pick them up, it’s been a real challenge. To get back in the gym and grind is the No. 1 priority. I think some of the kids haven’t been able to participate since March, and that just breaks your continuity. Normally you have spring workouts and then during the summer you go to camps. So we’re just starting from scratch.
Question: COVID-19 cases are going up across the state and the country. Is there a part of you that worries that it won’t be safe to start practice in a few weeks?
Answer: A lot of me worries about that. Some of the things you can’t change, so whatever happens is going to happen. We can’t change what the governor decides of what the state of North Carolina decides. We’re hopeful that we’re able to play and we don’t have any clusters or any cases whatsoever. And we want to get things going because basketball and all sports, really, kind of takes your mind away from some of the realities of people dying and people being unemployed and parents struggling and whatnot. Sports kind of gives us an opportunity to come together, relax a little bit and enjoy some of life’s simple pleasures. I don’t know how it’s all going to work. I just have my fingers crossed and am hoping for the best.
Question: Looking at your roster, you bring back the past two conference players of the year in Jamiyah Blakeney and Hope Benson. Are there some younger girls on the team you think have a chance to step up? Or is it too early to tell?
Answer: Having Jamiyah and Hope back gives us a little more of a cushion, and we also have senior starter Kim Holmes coming back and senior India Middleton, who made four starts last year and was a very versatile player for us. We have some defensive areas that we need to address, and there are a couple of girls I’ve got my eye on that hopefully can fill in some of those spots. We have a junior, Shay Simpson, and a JV player, Anaya Bush, that we’re looking to come up and compete at the varsity level. And we have a transfer from Piedmont who might be able to help us defensively as well. Her name is Trinity Simon.