CLIPBOARD Q&A | CHARLES BYRD

Byrd: Hawks are ‘a lot deeper’ than they were last year

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In its second season as a program under head coach Charles Byrd, the Seaforth girls basketball team is off to a 3-0 start and looks like one of the best teams in all of Chatham County.

The Hawks are coming off a 19-8 season in 2021-22 that saw them win the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A Conference regular season and tournament titles before falling in the second round of the state playoffs to Whiteville.

Seaforth is led by sophomore Gabby White, who averaged 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds over the Hawks’ first two games of the season. White also led Seaforth in scoring and rebounding last season, when she averaged 15.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.

Ahead of his team’s Thursday game against Western Alamance, Byrd spoke with the News + Record about his team’s hot start to the season.

How would you compare where your team is currently to where they were at this point last season?

CHARLES BYRD: I think we’re a lot better this year than we were at the start the year last year. We’re a lot deeper. We only had eight girls play for us the entire year last year. We’re currently at 13 girls at this point. I think from a numbers standpoint, it just makes us a lot stronger.

We also have more talent coming into the year than we did last year. We’ve got some really good freshmen who have joined the program. We’re expecting them to do some really big things for us on both sides of the floor. Overall, we’re looking a lot stronger now than we were at the same time last year.

You’re in a unique situation in that you return all your players from last season, and you still don’t have a senior on your team this winter. How nice is it knowing you’re able to build a strong foundation with the same girls over a period of multiple seasons?

It’s a really good benefit, mainly because the returners have an understanding of what the staff expects from a culture standpoint. They understand how hard we need to come into work every day, and they have an understanding of the system we want to run, as well. Especially since we’re still really young, we have a number of freshmen. We only have two juniors on the team, so having all those returners back is very important.

Defensively, your team looks locked completely locked in, only allowing 80 total points through their first three games. How much of an emphasis do you put on that side of the court?

I am a coach who believes defense wins championships. That is really, really big in our practices. Defense and rebounding is something we really stress every day. It’s a major emphasis at each practice. Last year, we had some good stretches, but I don’t feel like we really found a rhythm on the defensive end. I think we’re going to be a lot better in that area this season.

Sophomore Gabby White is leading your team in scoring for the second straight season. How big of an impact does she have on your success as a team? What’s the next step she needs to take to improve her game?

Gabby has done a great job maturing. The thing that sticks out to me most is her leadership. She has been really emerging as a leader. She’s very vocal. She’s encouraging her teammates. She’s pushing them in practices and making sure they’re going hard every day. That leadership has been something that’s been very important to us to start this year, especially with us still being such a young, young team.

She has this mentality to work, work, work all the time. Working is important, but I feel like she would benefit from taking a step back and embracing the high school experience and what she’s going through, currently. You only get to experience this one time, so I believe the biggest thing for her is just really embracing the whole experience she’s going through.

You mentioned you have several talented freshmen who have come in. Who are some names you’d like to highlight as players who should make a big impact the rest of the way?

Katie Leonard. She plays the 1 and the 2 for us. She’s really strong and a really solid shooter. She plays hard on both ends. Also, Jocelyn Gesner. She’s been a huge addition for us, especially because sophomore forward Syndey Ballard is out the first half of the year this year. Jocelyn has really stepped into that role at the 5 (center) spot and has played really well for us to start the year. She’s our tallest player right now at 6-foot-2, and she’s been very important for us in what we like to do defensively and on the glass.

Last year, your team went 19-8 overall, won the conference and made it to the second round of the state playoffs. How do you feel like that experience will help your team as it heads down the stretch this season?

I feel like the girls are highly motivated to work really hard, not only to repeat what we did last year, but to give ourselves an opportunity to go deeper in the playoffs this year and maybe even win 20-plus games. We have some big goals, and I think last year is just motivation for them to get better this year.

Sports Editor Jeremy Vernon can be reached at jeremy@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.

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