Lady Vikings a Team in Transition
In his first five seasons as the coach of the Union Pines Lady Vikings basketball team, John Lewkowicz has seen the program grow from a fringe early-round playoff contender to a legitimate NCHSAA 3-A East powerhouse.
As a result, expectations surrounding the Vike girls’ hoops prospects have grown proportionally.
In his first full year as the coach for Union Pines, in the 2007-2008 season, Union Pines placed fifth in the 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference standings (5-9) but did manage to make the playoffs and almost pull off an upset against a top-seeded D. H. Conley squad, falling by a 74-72 margin. The Vikes finished with an overall record of 10-14 in what Lewkowicz deemed a rebuilding campaign.
In each of the next three seasons, the Vikings steadily improved their record as the squad became more consistent and successful in critical league and tournament contests. In 2008-2009, Union Pines finished 13-7 overall and tied for second in the CFVC with a mark of 9-4, but were again ousted in the opening round of the postseason in an upset loss on its home floor.
From there the Vikes won back-to-back sectional championships in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons. Both of those seasons Union Pines advanced to the East Regional semifinals, or elite eight, by winning three postseason games in the state playoffs.
Union Pines concluded its season in 2010 with a record of 23-7 and a league mark of 10-2 to claim a share of the CFVC regular season title. The following season the Vikes went 28-4 again in claiming a share of the regular season league crown along with capturing the CFVC tournament title.
In last season’s campaign, Union Pines had a slight fall-off because of major losses on the perimeter. Still, Union Pines finished with an overall mark of 20-8, a second-place CFVC finish at 10-2, and a trip to the second round of the state playoffs where it was eliminated by a score of 65-50 by Asheboro.
As Lewkowicz and his squad ready to start the 2012-13 roundball season, which begins Monday with a home opener against 4-A Terry Sanford at 6 p.m. in Cameron, it does so by the coach’s own admission in what will be in a rebuilding phase — especially in the early going.
“As a team we are going to be pretty much split between some returning veterans and some young newcomers,” said Lewkowicz. “Due to the loss of our two primary scorers and rebounders from last year, I look at this team to be more reliant upon each other and more pattern-oriented.
“There will be much more ball distribution going on, and as a group we will be relying heavily on execution with good passing, cutting and ball screening.
“We will be doing a lot of that with a good deal of patterning, and then, as we get better, we will start developing the options as we figure out who are the ones who will be the penetrators and who are the players we will be going to for quick hitters.
“That is really the rebuilding aspect of this team as we look to set up a frame, and build upon that frame as the season goes on.
“So it is not like we are going into the season with a veteran team that has lots of experience and there is mostly just refining going on; instead, we are having to put a lot of building blocks in place.”
Last year the Vikings had two clear options with a pair of premiere players in Crystal Hicks and Tyler Ross. Both have since moved on, with Hicks graduating and now playing for Brunswick Community College and Ross transferring to 4-A Middle Creek.
As the primary ball handler playing a point forward, Hicks earned a spot on the North Carolina Coaches Association East-West All Star team, was selected the league’s player of the year, and also was an all-district honoree. She was second on the team in rebounding (10.8) and scoring (11.8) per game and led the squad in assists (4.8), steals (3.6) and three-pointers made.
Ross, also an all-league and all-district selection, led the team in scoring and rebounding as she averaged 16.9 points and 13.8 boards an outing. She was the second on the team in steals with an average of 3.5 and also added a 2.8 assist per game tally.
Overall, the two players accounted for 56.2 percent of the Vikings’ points last season and 61.3 percent of the rebounds. The team’s third-leading scorer and rebounder was Tiffany Hicks — Crystal’s younger sister — with averages of 7.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest as a second-year starting varsity player.
Lewkowicz feels that Tiffany Hicks, who stands six feet tall, has the ability to step into more of a leadership role in terms of scoring and as an experienced battle-proven veteran for this year’s team.
“This is really a showcase year for Tiffany where we are looking for her to step out of the shadows and into her own,” said Lewkowicz. “Last year she had 224 rebounds, so if you start looking down the road she has a tremendous opportunity to finish as one of our top rebounders ever and even move up fairly high on our scoring list too.”
Other key returners for the Vikings are senior guards Dasia McCrimmon and Bethany Daly, junior guard Lexie Coxe and post players senior Reagan Molek and junior Courtney Evans.
McCrimmon, a speedy guard who showed the ability to score in flurries and heat up from downtown, averaged 4.5 points, 1.4 steals and 1.4 assist per game. After coming off the bench for a majority of the year, Coxe started several late season games on the perimeter and averaged 3.6 points, 1.7 steals, 1.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.
Daly, Molek and Evans each saw court time as reserves deeper down the rotation for Lewkowicz.
Rounding out Union Pines roster are eight newcomers to the varsity ranks, including freshmen Stephanie Jackson, Samantha Ring and MeRisa Smith; sophomores Rachel Breasseale, Megan Harris and Charlotte Holder; junior Anna Jackson; and senior Courtney Hobgood.
Union Pines scrimmaged against 2-A Northwood Wednesday on the road in Pittsboro. The Lady Vikings will compete in four hour-long scrimmages Saturday at the Terry Sanford Jamboree in Fayetteville against 4-A Terry Sanford at 9 a.m., 2-A Richlands at 1 p.m. and 3-A Cardinal Gibbons at 3 p.m. and 4-A Hoke at 5 p.m.
Nov. 19 Terry Sanford; 20 at East Montgomery; 27 at North Moore; 30 East Montgomery; Dec. 4 at Terry Sanford; 7 at Jordan-Matthews; 11 at Douglas Byrd*; 14 at Overhills; 15 Richmond Sr.; 18 Gray’s Creek; 19 at Chapel Hill; 27-29 Holiday Tournament (at Lee County HS in Sanford); Jan. 4 Southern Lee; 8 at Cardinal Gibbons; 11 at Western Harnett; 18 OPEN; 22 Westover; 25 Douglas Byrd; 29 Overhills; Feb. 1 at Gray’s Creek; 2 at Richmond SR.; 5 at Southern Lee; 8 Western Harnett; 12 OPEN; 14 at Westover.
- 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference games
More like this story