Young Hillside team part of tough girls field
Posted December 21, 2011
Hillside High School has been one of the area’s most consistent girls’ basketball programs over the last several years.
Appearing in the Holiday Invitational isn’t something foreign to the Hornets or head coach Ovester Grays, but it is the first time since 2008 the team participated in the event.
“Our kids get real excited for an opportunity to play in this tournament. It’s traditionally been a good tournament, a competitive tournament,” Grays said. “We’ve established a reputation of being a high-caliber basketball program.”
In recent years, Hillside has participated in tournaments in other parts of the country, but playing back in the Triangle gives the players a unique opportunity, Grays says.
“I think for our kids, our parents and our fans to have the opportunity to see our kids play locally in a tournament of this nature over the holidays is exciting,” he said. “They don’t have to travel. They get to see our team play basketball right here locally.”
Grays is in his 15th season at Hillside, and the Hornets have had a great deal of success under him. Since Grays took over the program, Hillside has made the NCHSAA playoffs every single season. In 2009, the Hornets appeared in the 4A state championship game, where they lost to West Charlotte.
“Anytime you’re a winner, your presence in the tournament makes you the hunted; I think that makes us better. It keeps us focused,” said Grays. “I think it’s a great opportunity and a great challenge, and our kids like to know they’re going to be challenged.”
Hillside has a variety of players in terms of experience. Grays’ starting lineup includes a freshman, a sophomore, two juniors and a senior.
“We are probably still one of the youngest teams around,” Grays said.
Morgan McGee is the lone starting senior. The 5-foot-11 McGee played in the state championship game in 2009, and has been a part of three conference championships at Hillside. She’s also the No. 2 student academically at Hillside in the Class of 2012.
“She’s just a wonderful kid and a great leader. She leads us with character,” Grays said. “When she gets on the court, she’s a matchup terror for anyone. She can play with the best kids on the inside, but she can also face-up on the outside and create other matchup problems.”
One of the youngest players on the team is freshman Justine Lyons. The 5-foot-10 guard is a major threat for the Hornets.
“She’s probably one of the top freshmen in the state on the wings,” Grays said.
Jordan Smith is another key player for Hillside. An all-conference performer as a sophomore last season, she averages a double-double for her career.
In the sectionals of the state playoffs last season, Smith posted 18 points and 20 rebounds in a losing effort against Cary Green Hope.
“She’s continued that kind of play for us. She can do a lot of things for us, she’s the other side of that bookend with Morgan,” Grays said.
But Grays says if Hillside is going to compete in this week’s HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational, the team can’t focus on just one player.
“We don’t focus on one player because we’re balanced. If we play balanced, we can win and that’s the ultimate goal,” he said.