South Charlotte

Mustangs leading scorer likes defense even more

Carly Hammack is a senior captain for Myers Park, but she doesn't play AAU basketball and didn't go to a camp over the summer. She isn't planning on playing in college, and her main sport actually is soccer.

She's also the team's leading scorer but says she enjoys playing defense more than offense.

"I like playing defense better than offense, honestly," she said. "To get a steal or something, I kind of like it better."

She may not be a typical high school player, but Hammack's scoring and strong defensive play is what makes the guard an important part of a young Myers Park team (5-5, 1-2 through Dec. 28) that has been streaky so far this season.

Myers Park lost Tiffani Stephens, an all-Mecklenburg and all-region 6-foot-4 center, to graduation last year and have had to rely on younger players, including 5-foot-11 sophomore India Timpton, in the post.

That's why Myers Park's experienced backcourt is more important this year. The four captains - Hammack, seniors Mason Jeffries and Barbara Cherry and junior Brittany Smith - are all guards for the Mustangs.

"We have a really young team that's coming out - we lost a lot of players from last year - so we not only lead by talking but lead by example on the court," said Hammack, 17. "We've gotten better, I think. ... We just have to pick up the intensity."

Hammack doesn't seem to have a problem with intensity.

In a first-round game against North Mecklenburg in the East Lincoln Winter Jam tournament last week, Hammack struggled with turnovers early but kept playing tough, pressing on defense, diving after loose balls and weaving through players for rebounds.

"You never have to worry about her effort," said coach Wes Hepler. "You never have to worry about whether she cares or not. She will fight, claw, battle until the end of the game."

Hammack's effort has led her to a team-leading 3 steals per game. She also averages 2 assists per game and a team-high 12.6 points. Hammack says her scoring also comes from effort.

"I think if you just go out there it kind of comes to you," she said. "If you hustle and do everything you can then the shots will start falling and things will start coming for you."

Hepler said Hammack can do a little bit of everything on the court.

"She's been shooting the ball pretty well from three," he said. "She's got a knack for driving in and, if not finishing, trying to get to the foul line. She's an excellent foul shooter. ... If there's any weaknesses, it's just her size. She can't really do much about that. ... She gets the most out of what she has, for sure."

Hammack is 5-foot-6 but still manages to grab almost three rebounds per game.

"I never have to worry about anything with her," said Hepler. "She'll be the first one to step in and take a charge; she'll be the first one to dive on the floor for a loose ball - every coach's dream."

The effort Hammack has put in this season hasn't always paid off. The Mustangs fell behind early against North Meck and were down 11 at halftime. They cut the lead to three in the third quarter, but weren't able to finish. Hammack was frustrated.

"When everything's going great we're happy and we're going good, and when it starts to break down we don't really have the best of attitudes," she said. "We're a good team. Everybody likes each other so we've got the chemistry thing going. We've just got to step it up a little bit."

The Mustangs have shown they can win big games with a win against North Meck earlier in the season, a win against Sun Valley and a 42-point Southwestern 4A victory against East Mecklenburg. But they also have struggled at times, losing 91-33 to Butler and 73-56 to Ardrey Kell after trailing by just one at the half.

"We're not extremely deep," said Hepler. "We don't play a lot of people off the bench, and with the (fast-paced, pressing) style we play I think we get a little bit tired at times.

"We've still got a pretty good team. We've been playing some good teams and we're hoping to be playing our best basketball come February."

As the Mustangs get deeper into conference play and make a push for the playoffs, Hepler and the team will be looking to Hammack and the other senior leaders.

"With (Hammack), Mason Jeffries - she's our second-leading scorer - and Barbara, they're three of our seniors and three of our captains," said Hepler. "That's what we need on the floor, leadership."