advantage of a sagging defense by shooting from the perimeter, or some kind of mixed bag. Each game will be a little bit of a mystery when it comes to the Dragons and their execution. The big question for Monroe is how things will play out at guard. Kristin Manz, Grace Samuels and Kristin Shifflett are returning seniors and Lacey Beale adds depth as a sophomore. If the Dragons get strong play, particularly defensively from its backcourt, this team is poised to give George Mason a run for its money at the top of the Bull Run District standings. “All the guards are better this season,” Brunelle said. “They worked hard and came to all our preseason activities and you can just see their handles are better. Our patience with pressure is better. So it’s easy to see that every one of our guards has improved.” But perhaps nothing matters more for Monroe than the way that Brunelle and Da’Jour Strother play off of one another. Strother is a true post presence and her 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game made her a breakout player as well for the Dragons. Figuring out how to defend Monroe the first go around for most teams was just a guess. The second time around, things were pretty consistent.
“Towards the end of the year we saw a lot more double-teams and box-and-1’s on me so Dajour got the opportunity to play off that and did very well,” Brunelle said. “So we’re looking forward to seeing that all year from defenses and adjusting to it.” The combination of Brunelle and Strother gives Monroe the deepest frontcourt in the area. And since that duo commands so much attention, the opportunity should be there for senior forwards Lindsay Knights and Jazmin Freeman as well as freshman Daish Rae Wellons to finish on open looks. Last season wasn’t just a breakout season for Brunelle and Strother, it was for a Dragons team that had struggled since the 2010-2011 season. Qualifying for the Region 3A East tournament was a big step forward for this program, and the fact that Monroe was just one win away from making the Group 3A field should keep this team heavily motivated. Yes there’s pressure on this team, on Brunelle to take another giant leap forward. But that’s a two-way street, because there’s an equal amount of pressure on Monroe’s opposition to stop them from being dominant. ✖
eyes on the jefferson district There are a lot of teams capable of battling it out for the Jefferson District girls basketball title, but based on what they’re returning, Charlottesville has to be one of the early favorites. Don’t be surprised if this year is just like last year with upsets, parity and all the things make a tight race that much more entertaining. Seniors Alajiah Ragland and Destinee McDonald are back, giving the Black Knights one more season of the area’s best onetwo scoring punch. Both can create their own shot, Ragland never loses confidence and McDonald is flat our relentless at attacking the basket. While that would likely be enough to tilt things in favor of the Black Knights, they’ve also got Daeja Wade and Kajesha Taylor back, which is a combined 12.1 rebounds per game between the two forwards. Throw in Kaniyah Key (averaged 7.0 ppg in the final month of the season) and Zanequa Thomas’ return and things get interesting quickly. There are a lot of challengers though too. Western returns a lot in the post in forwards Eleri Hayden, Deja Newton-Grant and Shannon Moore, plus one of the area’s best freshmen last year Elisabeth Coffman is back after a breakout campaign at the point. Coffman’s scoring gives the Warriors one of their first fearless shooters in a few years. Orange County will lean on its guards, particularly Laine Harrington and Lindsey Slaughter. Harrington has been a force for years. Overcoming the loss of Kiani Hudgens, the four-year starter at point guard, is one of the Hornets’ early challenges. Fluvanna has to deal with the departure of Katie Stutz and Bri Harris, which means Chaniyah Brown, Darrah Martin, Jemicka Johnson and Alex Daniels have to step up. There’s also a potential youth movement afoot in Palmyra with five freshman as potential contributors. Albemarle, meanwhile, is slated to return the core of Aiyanah Tyler-Cooper, Anne Ridenhour and Aneesha Debruhl. With the right development around that group, Albemarle could be dangerous. Monticello lost Kiana Scott, but they return Kirstena Lilley, Mariah Brown and Hannah Shifflett to form an experienced front court. Monticello’s young guards will have to step up for them to be a factor. With Louisa County also showing they’d be in the fight last year with the emergence of point guard Tyi Skinner and DaNikqua Marshall underneath plus Powhatan bringing back Kylee Maiolo at point guard, the Jefferson District girls battle should be a wild one this year.