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Charlotte Observer preseason girls basketball countdown: No. 2 Ardrey Kell

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NO. 2 ARDREY KELL KNIGHTS

Head Coach: Jeff Buseick (4th year as Ardrey Kell coach).

Coaching Career Record: 73-17 at Ardrey Kell.

2016-17 Record: 24-7 (12-2 in the SoMeck8 Conference).

2017-18 Conference: SoMeck7 Conference.

Returning Starters (4): Journey Muhammad, Sr., PG (5-4); Kennedy Cash, Jr., G/F (5-8); Deniyah Lutz, Sr., F/G (5-9); D’Shara Booker, Sr., F (6-1).

Key Newcomers: Meghan Rogers, So., PG (5-5); Michelle Ojo, Fr., G/F (5-11); Evan Miller, So., G/F (5-10).

Outlook: Ardrey Kell has averaged 24 wins per season in the last three years under Coach Buseick. The Knights return four starters from a 4A state quarterfinalist team that should be a state contender with reigning, SoMeck7 conference player of the year, Lutz (15.3 ppg), Booker and Muhammad leading a team that knows how to win the big games.

--JAY EDWARDS

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NO. 3 HICKORY RIDGE RAGIN’ BULLS

Head Coach: Tolonda Simmons (6th year as Hickory Ridge basketball coach).

Coaching Career Record: 93-41.

2016-17 Record: 31-1 (18-0 to win South Piedmont Conference (SPC) champions).

2017-18 Conference: Southwestern 4A Conference.

Returning Starters (5): Gabby Smith, Sr., F (5-11) (Western Carolina commit); Nia Daniel, Jr., G (5-10) (University of North Carolina commit); Alyssa Wagner, Sr., G (5-8) (Lenoir Rhyne commit); Jiera Spears, Sr., G (5-7). Key Newcomers: Rinnah Green, Sr., G (5-8) (Charlotte 49ers’ commit) (Butler transfer); Courtney Meadows, Sr., G (5-5) (Georgetown University commit) (Rocky River transfer).

Outlook: Hickory Ridge had a season for the ages last year, going 31-1 overall, and finishing a 3A state runner-up after a heartbreaking 66-64 loss to the Northern Guilford in the state championship game. This season, Coach Simmons and her team have a new challenge in the SW4A conference and class 4A. But, the Ragin’ Bulls are loaded with the experience, talent and size, led by Daniel, Smith, Spears, Wagner and transfers, Green and Meadows, to challenge for a SW4A title and be a serious contender for 4A state championship in their first in the state’s highest classification.

--JAY EDWARDS

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Ashbrook girls are No 4 in the Observer’s preseason poll Special to the Observer

NO. 4 ASHBROOK GREEN WAVE

Head Coach: Juan Smith (16th year as Ashbrook basketball coach).

2016-17 Record: 27-3 (13-1 to win the Big South Conference).

2017-18 Conference: Big South Conference/3A.

Returning Starters (5): Evonna McGill, Sr., F/C (6-0); Trinity Jones, Sr., G/F (5-7); Jada Davie, Sr., G (5-6); Shajada Davie, Jr., G/F (5-7); Summer Schloss, Jr., F/C (6-0). Key Newcomers: Destiny Jones, So., C (6-1); Shayana Portee, Fr., G (5-6); Maria Portee, Fr., G (5-6).

Outlook: Ashbrook has established itself as one of best teams in the state in the last two season with 57 wins, including trips to the 3A state semifinals (2016) and 3A state quarterfinals (2017).

This season, Coach Juan Smith could have his best team yet with all five starters back, led by seniors, McGill (17.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Jones (15 ppg) and Jada Davie (10.5 ppg), giving this Green Wave squad the experience and talent to three-peat as Big South conference champions and be a legitimate, 3A state title contender, again.

--JAY EDWARDS

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NO. 5 PROVIDENCE DAY CHARGERS PROVIDENCE DAY

Head Coach: Josh Springer (11th year as Providence Day basketball coach).

Coaching Career Record: 264-39.

2016-17 Record: 25-4 (10-0 in the CISAA).

2017-18 Conference: CISAA.

Returning Starters (3): Kennedy Boyd, Sr., PG (5-7); Andi Levitz, So., PG/SG (5-4); MiLeia Owens, So., PG/SG (5-5).

Other Key Returning Players: Kailey Smith, So., G (5-6); Grace Godwin, So., G (5-6). Key Newcomers: Nina Clark, So., PG/SG (5-6).

Outlook: Providence Day’s standard for success is nearly impossible as the eight-time defending, NCISAA 3A state champions (also won 12 of the last 13 state titles) pursue No. 9.

The Chargers have a talented backcourt in University of North Carolina commit, all-state point guard, Boyd, Levitz, and Owens, but will need some frontcourt players to emerge. Providence Day might not be as loaded as usual, but no one will be surprised if Coach Josh Springer’s team is hanging another conference and state championship banner after this season.

Note: Click here for teams 16-6

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