McVicker leads new-look Knights

Most local followers of girls basketball probably weren’t surprised to see that Ardrey Kell jumped out to a 4-0 start this season. After all, the Knights have been one of the area’s best squads for the previous two seasons, having lost a total of four Southwestern 4A conference games to just two teams – Myers Park and Butler – in that span.

But first-year coach Jennifer McVicker said the unblemished record the Knights had entering their Wednesday, Dec. 5 game against Weddington was much harder to achieve than it looked.

“We have a lot of work to do, I’ll tell you that,” McVicker said as she sat at her desk earlier this week. “We have no seniors on our team. Every day we do something good, but it’s definitely a learning curve. The kids are learning a whole new system, and that’s tough.

“But it’s exciting, I’ll tell you that.”

McVicker, who replaces Tina Lawrence as the Knights coach, is no stranger to Mecklenburg basketball. She’s even had a strong presence in the Southwestern 4A, having spent five seasons with a Butler squad that won a state championship in 2010. Before Butler, McVicker spent three seasons as the head girls coach at Harding before becoming an assistant with the boys squad under then-coach Myron Lowery, who’s now at Providence.

McVicker, a Pittsburgh, Pa., native, was Ardrey Kell’s girls JV coach last season, when she led the team to a perfect season. Six players from that JV squad now are with McVicker on the varsity squad, which has helped the program’s transition into a new era. But even that’s a bit deceiving, McVicker noted.

“We have 12 players on our team,” she said. “We had four returners, but then we have two freshman additions to go with the six players who played for me on JV last year. That means eight out of our 12 players have no varsity experience.”
McVicker paused.

“Wow!” she said. “I’ve always known we were young, but that’s the first I’ve said that out loud. Hopefully, it all works out!”

The Knights also lost two of the league’s top players to graduation: Wake Forest signee Christelle Shembo and high-scoring guard Oceania Anderson. But it’s safe to say that no one in the Southwestern 4A is feeling sorry for McVicker. The

Knights’ four returning players – junior Marshae Bradbury and sophomores Jordan Muhammad, Raven Dean and Quiera Gilmore – are pretty strong.

Muhammad leads the team in scoring (11.7 points), steals (5.3 per game) and 3-point shooting (43 percent) from her guard spot. The 6-foot Dean ranks second in scoring (11 points), rebounds (five) and steals (4.7). Bradbury, who stands 5-9, averages a squad-best six rebounds and ranks fourth in scoring (eight points). Gilmore also has been a sound performer, posting 6.3 points, 2.3 steals and 1.3 assists.

Erin Whalen, a 6-1 freshman, has been strong in the early going, as she produces 9.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 steals and two assists per game. Other young impact players have been 6-foot sophomore Darah DeWalt (4.3 points, 4.7 rebounds per game) and 5-6 freshman Chase Muhammad (four points, 2.6 rebounds).

McVicker said the four returning players have helped set the tone for the varsity newcomers.

“Marshae, Jordan, Raven and (Gilmore), they’re really stepping up, buying into the system,” McVicker said. “They’re students of the game, starting to think about things now. They’ve really stepped it up and demonstrated some leadership skills.

“Right now, we’re still in the process of meshing everybody, and the kids have been really receptive of what we’re trying to do. We have a lot of athleticism, but getting them to buy into the basic fundamentals and doing the little things, that’s the key. But the good thing is we have really good students, really good kids.”

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