STATE PREVIEW – Tide girls get another shot at J.I. Burton

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Galax hopes it learned enough from last year’s meeting to get a different result this time around.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

Game tape is great. First-hand knowledge isn’t bad, either.

Galax girls’ basketball coach Yerrick Stoneman was waiting on film of Group A Division 1 quarterfinal opponent J.I. Burton at midweek, but if it never arrived he and his team still had their own experiences from which to draw.

Galax (20-5) will try to avenge a 59-46 loss in last year’s quarterfinals when the Maroon Tide matches up with the Raiders again Saturday in a 1:45 game at Virginia High School in Bristol.

Some key components are missing from Burton’s state championship team of a year ago, including 1,900-point scorer Ra’Shelle Miller and head coach Mike Goforth, who took over at Virginia High this year. Not much else has changed. Sisters Jazz and Iris Hill are back, as is Jessica Hensley, who scored a career-high 22 points on the Tide last year. New coach Melissa Short, on the staff last year, kept the scheme Goforth used to make Burton a state tournament regular.

“It’s basically the same team except for the big center,” Stoneman said. “[Short] is running the same system, from what I know. Why change something that wasn’t broken if you got a state championship out of it?”

While experience is handy in terms of Xs and Os, it can be even more valuable in other ways. As leading scorer Allison White said following last year’s loss, “We hope to be in the same position next year, with a different outcome.”

Half of that wish has come true. Galax is no longer the wide-eyed newcomer to the state tournament. It will be a senior-laden team playing the same opponent on the same floor as a year ago. 

“We as a team have changed since last year,” Stoneman said. “We’ve gotten better, we have more depth than we had last year, we play man-to-man a lot more, but the good thing is that, in watching film, I saw where we broke down. I saw things in our sets where [Burton] slacked off on us, so we’re changing a few things and putting in a few new sets.”

One of the biggest keys will be limiting turnovers, and their consequences. Galax trailed from the onset but was within seven points when a flurry of fast breaks led to three-point play chances for the Raiders, who saw a seven-point lead swell to 18 points in about three minutes in the third period.

Galax is coming off a region championship loss to Covington in which the Tide shooting was so off it could only be seen for what it was – an anomaly.

“The whole team, in Monday’s practice, was just ‘Let’s laugh about it, joke about it,’ ” Stoneman said of the Tide’s 2-for-35 shooting over the final 20 minutes. “But [Tuesday] we really buckled down. This isn’t a fun week of practice, and it’s not because of regionals. Fun is when you win and get to Richmond. It’s do-or-die now. These seniors know that.”