High School Sports

Talent-rich Mallard Creek girls start season No. 1 in Sweet 16 poll

Janay Sanders gets a lift from Mallard Creek teammates Dazia Lawrence (back, left to right), Kay'lla Richardson, Ja'Nea Davis, Ahlana Smith and E'mya Price. The Mavericks will start the season No. 1 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 girls’ poll.
Janay Sanders gets a lift from Mallard Creek teammates Dazia Lawrence (back, left to right), Kay'lla Richardson, Ja'Nea Davis, Ahlana Smith and E'mya Price. The Mavericks will start the season No. 1 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 girls’ poll. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

In the seven seasons Clarence Johnson has been girls’ basketball coach at Mallard Creek High, the Mavericks have averaged 20 wins per season. They’ve never missed the playoffs.

Johnson has led Mallard Creek to two conference championships and three conference tournaments titles. In 2011, the Mavericks reached the 4A state semifinals.

About the only thing they haven’t done is win a state championship.

They begin the 2016-17 season ranked No. 1 in the Observer’s preseason high school basketball poll and among the favorites to win it all.

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Johnson said, “but a lot of things still have to go right. You can’t get injured. We’re still a little (small) and you would like to have a couple of girls who can score close to the basket. Those jumpers don’t always fall. But we were 26-2 last year, so there’s pressure to win a few more games, to go a little bit further.”

Mallard Creek took over the No. 1 spot in the Sweet 16 last season, advancing to the playoffs’ second round as a No. 2 seed before suffering a shocking second-round loss to 10th-seeded Southwest Guilford.

Four starters return: juniors Ja’Nea Davis, Janay Sanders, Kay’lla Richardson and E’mya Price. Mallard Creek has added two high profile transfers from Vance - 5-foot-10 junior guard Ahlana Smith and 5-9 sophomore guard Dazia Lawrence. That duo combined to average more than 40 points per game last season, earning all-conference and All-Observer honors. They’re both major-college recruits.

“Really,” Johnson said, “that’s what everybody was talking about all summer, those two coming over. Our philosophy is if they’re not walking in the hall on August 28th, they’re not here. And they were walking the hall on August 28th.

“Those two girls are really good basketball players. They go after it hard in practice and they make the rest of the girls better because they compete so hard.”

Johnson said Lawrence, Smith, Sanders and Price all have Division I offers. During fall workouts, Smith and Lawrence drew college coaches to campus from East Carolina, Florida, Georgetown, Rutgers, Temple, Virginia Tech and Western Carolina.

Johnson, 60, has coached high profile players before. In 1992, he coached the Charlotte Sonics’ 17U AAU team to the national championship game. That team included future NBA players Jeff McInnis and Jerry Stackhouse and future Duke star Jeff Capel.

Since then, Johnson has coached at Boston University and Johnson C. Smith as an assistant. He’s also coached at Central Piedmont and in middle school. Now, he’s trying to push a talented Mallard Creek team over the top. The Mavericks start their season Thursday at Butler.

“We’re tired of practicing against each other,” Johnson said. “I cannot wait until the 17th. There’s some pressure this year, but it’s good pressure. I never worry, man. It’s still a game. There are some teams out there, especially (in eastern N.C.), that have been there.

“This group is new to all. We’re just scratching the surface. We’ve not been there deep into February and March. I just have to have them ready for the ride.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr

2016-17 Preseason Charlotte Observer girls’ Sweet 16 basketball poll

Team (Class)

Rec.

 1. Mallard Creek (4A)

26-2

 2. South Mecklenburg (4A)

18-9

 3. Ashbrook (3A)

30-2

 4. Davidson Day (IND)

27-3

 5. Weddington (3A)

26-3

 6. Hickory Ridge (3A)

24-5

 7. Providence Day (IND)

27-2

 8. Rock Hill (5A)

26-3

 9. Myers Park (4A)

22-5

10. Ardrey Kell (4A)

24-7

11. Butler (4A)

20-9

12. Rocky River (4A)

15-12

13. Monroe (2A)

19-6

14. Hopewell (4A)

18-8

15. North Iredell (3A)

22-6

16. Parkwood (2A)

23-5

Note: Records are from 2015-16

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