by Chris Hunt
The North Mecklenburg girls basketball season ended with a 64-44 loss to Indian Trail Porter Ridge in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A playoffs on Feb. 21. It was the second consecutive 15-win season for the Vikings under coach Jennifer Baker, who took over the team in July of 2009. North Meck was 15-11 in 2009-10 and 15-12 in 2010-11, and made the 4A playoffs both years.
Since Baker took the helm, North Meck has cranked up its off-season workout program. Unlike seasons past, the Vikings accepted invitations to summer team camps, held open-gym workouts and players even joined the cross-country team during the fall. Baker also held a basketball jamboree at North Meck in July for local high school teams, an event she’s hosted for six consecutive seasons, dating back to her time coaching I-MECK 4A conference rival Vance.
Baker said the 2010-11 senior class’s enthusiasm was the reason the off-season workout program has been so successful and one of the biggest explanations to why North Meck has returned to its winning ways after a bumpy 7-16 record during the 2008-09 season. With players in better shape, Baker has been able to coax strong defensive performances out of her squad. This winter, Viking opponents averaged less than 48 points per game.
“We had an aggressive nature on the defensive side this season,” said Baker. “I feel like our kids are starting to make the change over to value defensive opportunities.”
North Meck was led in scoring by senior Tatum McKee, who averaged 15.3 points and 3.7 steals per game. She eclipsed the 20-point barrier eight times during the regular season, including a season-high 26 points in the season finale against Hopewell.
Senior Kayla Lemke was the only other Viking to average double figures at 10 points per contest. Her highest scoring output was an 18-point performance against Vance on Feb. 4. Both McKee and Lemke were team captains, along with fellow seniors Sam Garst and Erin Lenhert. Softball star Sarah Mooney was the fifth and final senior on the North Meck roster.
“Those girls – with the exception of Lemke, who was a four-year varsity player – were all part of our undefeated junior varsity squad four years ago,” said Baker. “When I got here two seasons ago, they really embraced what I was selling and worked hard for two years.”
The Vikings have a nucleus of strong, athletic players returning next season. Freshman guard Destiny Barrino led all underclassmen with 6 points per game. Junior Eboni Dixon, sophomores Kelly Beasley and Jasmine Bullock and freshman Jasmine Cash gained plenty of experience this season.