Lake Norman & Mooresville

Wildcats focus: playing together

When a team is winning, it may give a false sense that everything is right with them.

The Lake Norman girls basketball team went 24-6 overall last season. They went 10-3 in the I-Meck conference, beating Hopewell as the 2010 conference champions. They earned the 2010 4A West sectional title, before losing to East Mecklenburg in the regional semifinals.

Things looked great from the outside for the Wildcats, but there was turmoil boiling under the surface.

"We had a lot of drama last year," said senior captain Landyn Mannion. "Both on the court and off the court. No one really got along and everyone was upset. It had an effect on all of us, and our families; it didn't just affect the players."

New outlook

Senior co-captain Lynnsey Howard said, "It put too much stress on us when we went to play."

Despite the drama few outside of the team knew about, the Wildcats were successful last season. Head coach Dave Walla left for a coaching position in Texas.

When new coach Lori Reavis applied for the job, she knew little about the team, which is just how she wanted it.

"I knew they were good," she said. "But I didn't want to know a thing about them beyond that. It's a fresh start; I wanted everyone to come and show me what they got."

Reavis had been an assistant principal in Iredell County, where administrators can't be coaches and she missed the game. A former standout at North Iredell High and Wingate University, Reavis jumped at the chance when the position came open.

"I was lucky I got the job," she said. "And I'm happy to be here."

This year's Wildcats are very different than last season's conference champs. That team had six seniors, this one has two. Of the five returning varsity players from last season, only junior Marissa Riley saw a significant amount of playing time last year.

"I know we lost a lot, and I knew this would be different," said Reavis.

But what has been a different experience for many of the players, has been a better one.

"Everyone is more focused," said Howard. "Everyone was excited about something new."

Playing together

"We work together better, now," said Mannion. "Everyone's not just out for their own points."

Together, that's what the team yells at the end of practices and before games. It's one of Reavis' team philosophies.

"They don't have to be best friends, but they do have to play together," she said. "That's how you play as a team. ... You win games together, you lose games together."

Reavis played under Wingate basketball coach Johnny Jacumin, who, during his tenure, took the Bulldogs to the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional Tournament nine times. Jacumin died in June.

"I learned my coaching philosophy from him," said Reavis. "I learned compassion and love for the game from coach Jacumin. He loved the game and he loved us. And he taught us to give our all."

Reavis believes in leaving everything on the court, that's why her other motto for this season is "All out."

"When you walk in between those black lines, leave it all out there," she said.

The Wildcats started the season 4-2. Howard is leading the team with an average of 14 points per game, while Riley and Mannion are each averaging about 10 points and 8 rebounds per game. Reavis came in with players who knew how to win, but she's helping them to really understand how to play.

"Never give up," she said "They were down by 20 against West Rowan, but they never gave up. I want them to remember to play each second like it's their last."

And to have fun.

"You have to love the game," said Reavis. "Unless you love it and want to be here, you won't perform and do what you are capable of doing."

Mannion, Howard and their teammates have found their love of the game again.

"To be honest, I felt we could do way more last year," said Mannion. "This year I feel we are even better."

Howard agrees.

"Everybody gets along now," she said. "We want to go as far as we can go, and win as many games as we can."