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Saluda High School

Saluda’s Jeanette Wilder: “We Just Want The Opportunity To Get Past The Third Round Of The Playoffs”

By Billy G. Baker


Saluda—Building the potential for a state championship team is a process that often takes several years to nurture and grow and Saluda (13-1) head basketball coach Jeanette Wilder is seeing that process reap rewards as the second half of the 2019-20 season begins

“We have four starters who have been on the same team since middle school and we have been building the program and our goal is to finish the second half of the season strong with a strong desire  to finally find a way to get past the third round of the playoffs,” said Coach Wilder who also serves as the school’s athletic director. “In my 20-year coaching career we have never made it past the third round of the play-offs, but we feel like we have a team with the potential to make it to the upper state finals. This is one of our strong goals for sure.”

On January 22 the team played a region game on the road at Abbeville and the fierce physical type play in the game was a carry over from the football rivalry the two schools had during this football season. Saluda won the game 68-55 behind the stellar play of talented junior guard/forward Kalisha Hill who led the way with 30 points and 19 rebounds against the Lady Panthers.

Coach Wilder described the Abbeville game as “very physical and intense” just like the football rivalry the two schools had during this season. After losing to the then undefeated Abbeville football team in October,  Saluda charged through the playoffs on a mission, and in the upper state finals against Abbeville the Tigers over-came a 21-3 deficit in the third quarter to rally for a win advancing to challenge Barnwell for the state title the following week. Over 8,000 Saluda fans stormed into the Benedict College Football Complex setting a new attendance record for a home crowd at the venue. The Tigers dominated Barnwell and won their first state title since 1963.

“It was a hard-fought full court pressure defense from both teams when we played at Abbeville and I am real proud of how our team responded to a tense atmosphere on the road,” said Coach Wilder, one of the few athletes in the history of Newberry College to earn post season individual honors playing three sports in college.  “Playing in that type of environment should help us later in the season when we hopefully advance deep into the playoffs.”

With the 5-10 Hill, a consensus all-state pick as a sophomore  having her best game this season against Abbeville,  5-9 senior post player Nadya Watson, the only senior on the roster, stepped up her game as well with a 21 point 16 rebound effort against the Lady Panthers. Hill and Wilson have been key varsity players on the team for the past four seasons. Watson is averaging 7.5 points and seven rebounds a game.

“Hill was our region Player of the Year last season and she is our leader on the floor,” said Coach Wilder. “She rarely comes out of a game and she does all the little things right. She is our nucleus and a very hard worker.” Hill has been starting since the 8th grade and she is currently averaging 16.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and four steals a game.

Coach Wilder talked about the role of Watson on the team. “She does a good job of controlling the boards on both ends of the court and she has a knack of getting good inside position and making a lot of put-back baskets inside the paint,” said Coach Wilder. “We like to feed her the ball off set plays and screens, and she can jump out of the gym.”  

Freshman guard Jessica Means is a sixth person off the bench, and she is contributing seven points a game. Sophomore guard Mya Carroll “gives 100 per cent on every play” and she is the team’s best defensive guard according to Coach Wilder. Carroll is averaging 5.2 points and three steals per game.  

“We rotate several guards in-an-out of the constantly,” said Coach Wilder. “As a group our defensive guard play needs to improve as we get closer to the playoffs.”

Junior Tierra Daniels is the team’s starting point guard and she has been a four- year starter. Daniels is averaging 9.3 points and 2.5 steals a game. Another four-year starter who has been in the program since middle school is junior guard Auvia Holland. Holland is contributing 3.6 points and 2.5 steals a game.

“Auvia has a good mid-range shot and she sees the floor well and passes the ball really well,” said Coach Wilder. “She is one of our four players who have started together since middle school.”

Kaylen Nick is an 8th grade forward who is a developing player in the post and she played a good bit as a 7th grader but tore her ACL late in the season. “Kaylen is a hard worker and we are using her mainly at the four-spot,” said Coach Wilder.

Sophomore guard Alexis Drafts comes in off the bench and contributes well on defense. Other key reserves on the team include sophomore forward Maria Brooks, sophomore guard Haley Hunter and sophomore forward Shania Brown

After a home game with Batesburg-Leesville on January 24 the Lady Panthers will play the second half of their region competition with four of the five final regular season games on the road. They play at Silver Bluff on the 31st of January. In the first two weeks of February they travel to Ninety-Six on the 4th, go to Fox Creek on the 7th, host Abbeville on the 11th and conclude the regular season at Batesburg-Leesville on the 13th.

“We hope to be playing our best basketball going into the playoffs and we will have a lot of challenges playing so many games on the road with the back-half of our region schedule,” said Coach Wilder. “We just want to have an opportunity to get past the third round for the first time ever and it would be great to make it to the upper state finals and see what happens.”   

One has to wonder if Saluda were to make it all the way to the finals at the USC Colonial Center in early March how many of those 8,000 fans who attended the football title game would show up to cheer on the Lady Tigers striving making some history of their own?

No doubt Coach Wilder, a highly decorated hometown girl, who bleeds the Purple of her alma mater, would bring all 8,000 Tiger fans back to the Big Arena. It will be loud and proud if that would happen and as the traffic security people from Benedict College know all too well, Saluda fans will travel anywhere to support their Tigers.    



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