Big Reds’ Aleea Crites raised up her game

Expectation-changing freshmen classes don’t come along very often for high school sports programs.

Talented incoming groups can be broken up before they collectively step foot on campus by a number of factors from transfers, injuries or sometimes parents.

Parkersburg High School girls’ basketball team was lucky enough to welcome one of these talented classes completely intact two years ago.

A trio of young ladies in particular, Madi Mace, Breaunna Wilson, and Aleea Crites, had the Big Reds planning the hanging of one or more state championship banners inside PHS Memorial Fieldhouse before their graduations.

Then-PHS assistant coach Scott Cozzens dubbed sophomore Shay-Lee Kirby along with them the four horsewomen of the program.

Accolades piled up quickly for Mace, Wilson and Kirby, but the soft-spoken Crites got lost in the shuffle as she dealt with a lot of foul trouble her freshman year.

Fouling problems and a hand injury followed her into her sophomore year. There were games where she picked up two fouls in the first quarter and had to ride the pine.

“Usually it’s my fault,” said Crites. “I constantly swat at people and when I overthink I foul.”

Watching the frustration mounting on her face game after game was heartbreaking. Her ability to take over a game with her talent and potential were apparent in spurts, but what could she do over the course of a whole contest?

She put a lot of pressure on herself to answer the question.

“I know I can play with them (Kirby, Mace and Wilson), but they are constantly pushing me all the time to make sure I stay with them so every where they go I go,” said Crites. “Usually there are a couple things I get mad about because I am not doing it as well as they are and I do them all the time to try and get better.”

Her never-give-up attitude paid off, along with the foul trouble going away, this past weekend inside the Charleston Civic Center. Crites gleamed on the court after she averaged four points during the regular season.

Her performances in the last two games were critical to the Big Reds’ state title push. PHS lost facilitator and third-leading scorer Wilson to a knee injury in the third quarter of a semifinal win over Parkersburg South.

Crites battled the Patriots’ Makenna Winans down on the block all night long.

She scored one less point then Winans, 13 to 12 (including two big 3’s), but most importantly matched her 8 boards.

Something clicked in the fourth meeting against the Patriots because she emerged her best in the most important game.

Her shine glowed over the state title contest.

PHS needed someone else to light up the scoreboard besides Mace and Kirby. Crites sensed her time was now with an 11-point, 12-rebound effort.

No points were bigger than the five she scored in the span of about 30 seconds in the fourth quarter with her team up 40-39 with 2:38 left to play. Crites buried a corner trey and then an easy kiss-off-the-glass shot on the block off assists from Madi Mace to really put the pressure on Buckhannon-Upshur.

“I have been working on my 3s a lot and I just caught the ball in rhythm from Madi,” said Crites on the shot. “It felt really good to know they trusted me. But I was so nervous I was going to do something wrong.”

“I am extremely proud of her,” said PHS Head Coach Scott Cozzens. “We know what she is capable of — I see it in practice. Now I have to have her take that to the floor. You saw it today … She is one of the best shooters we have. When I took the job I told her to start shooting 3s and her eyes lit up. She hit 5 threes against Morgantown in a fall league came and I said ‘Shoot the ball.

“If she becomes the player we know she can become we are going to get even that much scarier because she can put it on the floor. You saw I moved her up to help us break their (B-U’s) pressure. She is tall enough she can throw it. She can dribble the ball. She can shoot, she can finish.”

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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