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ALBRIGHT: Webster County’s Sydney Baird is must-see this season

A young Webster County girl showed a flair for the game of basketball from the time she was four-foot-six and playing with boys in AAU tournaments.

During her first few contests, her enjoyment was plain to see.

Smiles and a willingness to go up against the boys signaled she was right at home competing in not only a tougher version of the sport, but also playing against older competition. Those bumps and bruises were going to help her should she carry on with the sport as she grew up.

Sure enough, Sydney Baird became a member of the Webster County High School girls basketball team last season. A pretty good and tough one, too.

“I think when we saw last year that it didn’t matter what the situation was that really told us something. If the opposition was pressing and it was five on two she would get the ball and do what she had to do. She knew someone was going to be open or she could break the pressure herself,” father Ryan said.

This resolve and attitude led to a year unseen by many at the school in quite some time. But her impressive introductory season didn’t receive a ton of attention. Sure, there were spots for her on the All-Little Kanawha Conference first team and on the sports writers Class A all-state second team, yet there wasn’t a buzz around her.

Uh-huh.

It was rare that her performance would slip under the radar when girls basketball is so well covered in the Mountain State. Her scoring average of 23 points per game on 50% shooting from the field was nothing to shake a finger at, especially for a freshman. Rarer still is for her and her output to receive no attention the following preseason.

Again, there just isn’t that buzz in the air.

People aren’t asking what she has in mind for her sophomore season.

Of course, it is understandable how she could get lost in the state scene let alone the LKC scene. Players like Gilmer County’s Trinity Bancroft and Carrah Ferguson, Ritchie County’s Rebekah Rupert, Williamstown’s Lakyn Joy, St. Marys’ Lara Fetty and Kylie Wright, along with Parkersburg Catholic’s Leslie Huffman and Aaliyah Brunny and Ravenswood’s Annie Hunt are already firmly planted in the spotlight. That list right there is a lot to keep track of in the only small school conference in West Virginia.

But Baird needs to be mentioned with all of them this year.

Plain and simple.

No excuses.

It is time for her to ascend to the league’s elite. Look no further than a Tuesday night phone interview including her coaches and parents Sharon and Ryan with a curious reporter in understanding why. Positivity flowed from all three of them on her prospects for a great follow-up season. Not one negative thing was uttered.

More specifically, they spent time confidently talking about what they learned from last season and how they can apply it to now. Their excitement rising after each question and topic. Chuckles even escaping Sydney’s mouth when answering a query on if the state has seen her entire game yet.

“We didn’t even have the entire playbook installed last year. There were screens and isolation plays missing from the action,” she said.

Yikes.

When combined with her ability to shoot from the field, any more scoring options are clearly going to give an added depth to her game.

“Oh yeah for sure. I have no trouble getting off screens or finishing. Isolating me is just fine too because I can take someone off the dribble. I can finish either way down the lane too. It doesn’t really matter with me.”

Anything else?

“I think my defense is going to be a lot better and my shooting is a whole lot better than last year,” she said.

Oh boy.

It is hard to understate the astonishment of just a second-year player speaking with this much confidence on her own improvements and her game. Yet, comprehension of her outlook only strengthens when you look at the situation going on in Webster County. After she helped lead the team to its first better than .500 finish in quite some time, the sky is the limit for 2021.

More girls are out, there is more trust in Sydney to lead, “we have big girls who can run the floor and score,” and she is more than comfortable being the figurehead of the Highlander movement.

“Whatever the team needs I am going to do. I sometimes apologize to them when I take over but they understand I will take over a game if I need to,” Sydney said.

She’ll do so with a determination born out of the desire to follow in Roane County’s Lucille Westfall and Gilmer County’s Kylie Shuff and Riley Fitzwater’s footsteps. She wants to bring Webster County girls sports to the forefront much like that trio did before her at their schools.

“People don’t think I am that good or that I can carry a team by myself. It doesn’t really matter to me I will do whatever it takes. It really doesn’t bother me.”

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