Defending I-Meck basketball player of the year Hannah Early was dominant for Hopewell last season. The 6-foot-1 forward is hoping her versatile skill set will again give her the upper hand against her competition.
"She can play both inside and outside," said Titans' coach Gary Richmond. "She's a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams. She has guard skills, but post height."
Early does much more than create mismatches on the court, as she has the ability to consistently score from the floor - both inside and outside the three-point line - and from the free-throw line.
The senior captain led the Titans in scoring last year with 13.7 points to go along with a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Early's success may be due to how tough she is on herself.
"If I miss a shot - even if it's a three - I get really angry at myself," she admits. "It isn't really good all the time, but at times it can be good motivation."
Richmond said he doesn't find a problem with Early's approach, as it simply shows how much she wants to win.
"I'd rather have a kid that's too competitive than one I have to push and prod all the time to play hard," he said.
Early expects a lot from her Titans, who she hopes will win the I-Meck title and make a run in the state playoffs.
"It'll depend a lot on how we gel as a team the rest of the season," she said. "But I'm really excited. I have high hopes for this team because we all get along, we all have fun and enjoy doing what we do."
Hopewell has a talented core - highlighted by Early, junior Sharee Boyd, who averaged 10.3 points per game last season, and senior Hunter Meakin, a three-point specialist - back from last season's 23-5 squad. Richmond said this year's Titans can leave its mark behind.
"As long as we stay confident and not cocky, I think the sky's the limit," he said. "We have to be humble, but hungry. We can't live off last year's record."
Richmond said he knows that Early and the rest of the team won't be able to sneak up on their opponents like they did last year.
"We're going to get everybody's best effort, so we're going to come prepared every game," said Richmond.
Early, who opened up the season scoring 16 points last week against Forestview, is still making the transition to basketball after playing a long volleyball season.
"It's always a weird transition because they're two different sports - style of play and everything," said Early
She played a key role for the Titans' volleyball team, which finished the season 27-4 (14-1 in the I-Meck). Although the team struggled at the end of the season, being upset by Hough in the second round of the 4A playoffs, Early had an outstanding season, leading the Titans with 310 kills and 88 blocks.
The outside/middle hitter was named the I-Meck player of the year.
Last season, when Early was deliberating whether she should play volleyball or basketball collegiately, she admits winning the basketball player of the year honors made the decision easier.
"It boosted my confidence and made me think, 'maybe basketball is what you should really be doing,'" she said. "Getting it in volleyball doesn't really confuse me. As much as I love volleyball, I couldn't see myself giving up basketball."
Early said she enjoys the constant action and the mental aspect of basketball.
Richmond is happy to have Early, who will be attending Davidson College on a basketball scholarship, back.
"She's a year stronger, a year more experienced," said Richmond. "Hopefully that carries over into being a good team leader."