Winning 21 games and advancing to the third round of the state playoffs usually is cause for celebration, but not for the Dreher girls basketball team.
The Blue Devils, after all, won the Class 3A state championship in 2012 and had all five starters returning. But there was no repeat. In fact, Dreher was passed by Midlands and Region 4 rival Lower Richland, which put together an undefeated run to the state title.
That scenario sets up a season-long battle between the Devils and Diamond Hornets for area, region and state supremacy.
On the boys side of the story, former Bishop England coach and Cardinal Newman athletic director Jeff DiBattisto has high hopes for his first team at Dreher. With four starters returning, including senior star Tevin Mack, named one of the top five preseason players in South Carolina and in the top 75 on many national recruiting lists, DiBattisto & Co. are confident of improving on last season’s 16-7 record and ending a run of three straight first-round playoff exits.
Teresa Jones has guided Dreher to two state championships, and expects a bounce-back season with the return of South Carolina-bound senior Kaydra Duckett and senior center Makayla Johnson – two four-year starters.
“We made it to the Elite 8 last year, but it was disappointing and we’re hopeful of doing better,” said Jones. “The loss (in the playoffs) last year and made us work harder on and off the court to reach the pinnacle of AAA girls' basketball. We have a veteran team and hopefully this will allow us the opportunity to reach one of our main goals this year.”
Duckett averaged 18 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per game a year ago, and her number should go up in her final Blue Devil campaign. Johnson, who was hampered by off-season knee surgery a year ago, is looking to become the dominant forced inside that she hinted at as a sophomore and freshman. She averaged 5.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks last season.
Senior Shaniqwa Hopkins (4.7 ppg) and Jhileiya Dunlap, who averaged 11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.7 blocks and 1.9 steals as a freshman in the low post, are the other returning starters.
Freshmen Jalen Murray and Chelsea Wilson are two newcomers to watch. Murray is a 6-foot-1 center.
Tevin Mack averaged 19.6 points and 7.0 rebounds in an all-region campaign last year. Helping the Blue Devils challenge for a region championship and a long playoff run is the obvious goal for the established star.
Senior John Myers and junior Grayson Stiglbauer and Deandre Nathaniel round out the returning veteran core.
Seniors Brad Lemmons and Julian Primus, junior Isaiah Drayton and sophomore Brandon Brown will also be in the mix.
“Tevin is one of the best players in the state,” said DiBattisto. “We have an abundance of perimeter scorers and the ability to play up-tempo.”