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PC’s Leslie Huffman leads deep LKC girls basketball Player of the Year field

Parkersburg Catholic’s Leslie Huffman directs the offense in a regular-season game against St. Marys. Blue Devils head coach Howie Meeks looks on in the background. Huffman tops the list of 2021 candidates for the LKC Player of the Year Award. She is looking to become the first repeat winner since the Blue Devils’ Kelsie Fickeisen in 2010-11. File Photo

PARKERSBURG — Williamstown head coach Fred Sauro enters his 36th year of coaching Little Kanawha Conference girls’ basketball in 2021. So, it is safe to say he has seen his fair share of LKC Player of the Year races. But, has he witnessed one comparable to what is coming up this season?

“I think I have. Back in the late 90s it was very similar to this year,” he said.

He’s still excited with how this race could play out.

“When you look at how basketball has grown and the opportunities these kids have to expand their horizons, they really put themselves out there against competition. These kids know what good is. And they put themselves in the pond and hats off to them,” he said.

“There are so many candidates for our award this season. We have had challenges before but this year is going to be a tough decision. These kids have all grown into their roles.”

That is especially true seeing as six different girls are among the top considerations if W.Va. Governor Jim Justice doesn’t shut the season down due to COVID-19 spikes around the state.

Beginning all the pomp and circumstance is reigning player of the year Parkersburg Catholic’s Leslie Huffman. The junior returns to the court after a breakout year on the offensive side of the basketball.

Her scoring average jumped from 12.3 points per game to a team-high 19.4 points in 2019-20. Defensively, she played the same smothering style of on-ball defense she flashed her freshman season. In many ways, she closed in on the status of becoming a complete player.

“She became a much better shooter, too” Sauro said of the junior, who also led the MOV with 54 makes from downtown.

Another rival LKC West coach said this about her: “She has one of those all around games you are not sure how you are going to defend. When you are on offense you aren’t sure how much she is going to affect you with her skills. She is a good on-the-ball defender and makes it hard on your ball-handlers and that allows her other teammates to get in the passing lanes a little easier.”

It all creates a threatening package for Crusaderette head coach Marty Vierheller.

Besides all the havoc she brings, the other problem for anyone trying to knock Huffman off the top of the mountain is pretty straightforward. With sister Madeline off to Fairmont State, a large amount of the Crusaderettes’ offense is likely to run through Leslie and teammate Aaliyah Brunny. Even if it doesn’t, head coach Marty Vierheller feels like those two will still have their scoring opportunities thanks to the amount of depth on the team.

Sauro though won’t go so far as to call Huffman the favorite.

“I hate that thing where they say ‘It is your title to lose.’ She should go out and try to be the best she can be,” he said.

Yet, he will admit any hopeful winners have their work cut out for them.

“To unseat her it is going to take somebody who is very good. She beat her sister out to win the award last year and that was something else,” he said.

Sauro also thinks whoever wins the award will be on a successful team. “The odds are pretty high that if you have that player who does well while your team does well than the chances go up,” he said.

Ravenswood’s Annie Hunt agrees with the Yellowjacket leader.

“I think every girl deserves it. I think who anyone picks it is going to be a good pick. It will be backed by a lot of talent and a lot of hardwork,” she said.

When asked who has an early leg up, Hunt gave Huffman as her choice to win the award.

“She is a strong girl and I love watching her play,” she said. “If it isn’t me, I would lose to her.”

Huffman looks to become the first repeat winner of the award since St. Marys’ Kelsie Fickeisen won back-to-back in 2010-11.

THE

OTHER CONTENDERS

Aaliyah Brunny, Parkersburg Catholic — The Crusaderette put up Class A All-State First-Team numbers in 2019-20 but was voted the second-team captain after earning first-team honors as a sophomore. This vote did not sit well with her, according to her mother Kati. That percieved snub could be the catalyst that propels her to the top of the league and past her teammate this season. Though it will be hard to improve on big numbers like 17.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.8 steals per game, Aaliyah isn’t one to back down from a challenge.

One LKC West rival coach said this about Brunny: “When you talk about an athletic athlete, this is it. She runs the floor and defensively she can play in the post and put pressure on your scorers with her length. Offensively, it is hard to stop her getting to the basket or keeping her from running the court in transition.”

Trinity Bancroft, Gilmer County — Gilmer County’s dynamic No. 23 set a pretty high bar for herself in the last game she played in the 2019-20 season. Her 35-point outburst against Wheeling Central stirring up excitment for what is possible her junior season. The possibilities are quite high according to her head coach Amy Chapman. Bancroft only kept working and improving her game on both ends of the court this past summer.

One LKC East rival coach said of Bancroft: “She is an offensive threat that can handle the ball and shoot the ball and that is what makes her so dangerous. We try to keep someone on her and have to keep people running in and out a lot to try to shut her down. She still comes out on top a lot. You try to contain her the best you can.”

Sydney Baird, Webster County — The Highlander mostly flew under the radar last season. That likely changes after she scored 23 points per game and shot 50% from the field. Leaving her open or alone this year simply isn’t an option for Webster’s opponents. Stopping her may be just as hard. Several new additions and the Highlanders’ big ability to shoot and space the floor offers more offensive variety for head coach Sharon Baird.

One LKC East rival coach said this of Sydney: “What I like about her is that she truly brings her team around and tries to include them to make the program better. She doesn’t want the limelight all to herself. She wants to help her teammates evolve, grow, and get better and I have a lot of respect for that kid. She is hard working young lady and good things are going to happen for her.”

Annie Hunt, Ravenswood — The Red Devils’ top player has plenty to motivate her during her senior campaign. She’s within reach of 1,000 points and a spot on the Class AA All-State First-Team squad. Her surgically repaired ACL held up well one year ago. Providing her enough support and mobility to get into the paint and cause trouble on the defensive side of the ball. She has more help coming her way this year, as well. A large influx of freshman combining with returning players give Cara Williams’ squad a depth they haven’t had in several years. Hunt, at times, will play off the ball this season. Making it harder for people to zone in on her.

One LKC West rival coach said this of Hunt: “She is proof that setbacks do not build character but indeed reveal it. She has taken an injury and worked hard to return even better; an awesome inspiration from a family with a history of inspiring others!”

Kylie Wright, St. Marys — The versatile Blue Devils enters her final season. She has one final chance to show what she can do. As she will be surrounded by a veteran team, including several ballhandlers, that could be quite a lot. Shooting, rebounding, outside shooting, and solid defense are all in her repertoire and at head coach Howie Meeks’ disposal.

One LKC West rival coach said this of Wright: She really can play and is a very good shooter and is willing to do a lot of things. She has a high confidence level and has really pushed forward from where she first started when she came to St. Marys.”

DARK HORSES

Rebekah Rupert, Ritchie County – One LKC West rival coach said this of Rupert: “Criminy Martin is she an athlete. She is a kid who can play out on the permieter or face up and take you to the basket. The kid is a worker who believes in herself and you are not going to get her down. Nothing stopes her and she is always after it. She plays an extremely versatile game.”

Carrah Ferguson, Gilmer County – Bancroft’s teammate brings the defensive pressure to a Titans team that relies on a physical style of play. Her long arms and ability to jump into passing lanes make her a perfect candidate to start a fast break. But what really makes her a candidate to pop up and surprise voters is her ability to score and get to the basket. An all-around package similar to what Leslie put together last year would be hard for many voters to say no to at season’s end.

One LKC East rival coach said this of Ferguson: “She’s really put the time in during the off-season. She has worked on her fundamentals and you can tell. Her ability to score is good and she can play both ends of the floor really well.”

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