Cannon, young Lady Seahawks stepping up on defense

Published 3:08 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2018

CHOCOWINITY — From an offensive perspective, Southside knew it had something special in Shantel Cannon. She impressed with her shooting range as a freshman last year. Defensively, she proved aggressive with 13 steals on the season.

That aggression, when not managed effectively, can be a detriment. Southside coach Milton Ruffin said that younger players oftentimes tend to be excitable. Thus, they’re more prone to taking bad fouls.

“It’s really hard, especially when you’re playing in a zone,” he said of coaching defense to younger players. “You’ve got to be going with the flow. … When you’re playing man-to-man, you’ve got to be one pass or two passes away.

“It’s hard for them. Once it works, though, and they can actually see it, they can do it. … They’re really energetic. They want to be out there and do well.”

Southside’s defense has been exceptional since the New Year. It gave up 55 in a loss to a stout Riverside team on Jan. 2. Since then, though, it has held two of its three opponents to fewer than 20 points. It also provided a turning point in a 51-44 win over Tarboro last week.

Many of the team’s underclassmen are to thank. The Lady Seahawks have been without senior Danielle Ruffin, who is among the most defensively responsible on the squad.

Cannon’s improvement on defense from her freshman to sophomore year has been one of the reasons. She’s taken the aggression she demonstrated last year and is implementing it in a more calculated fashion.

“Last year, I kind of got a lot of fouls,” Cannon said. “I dimmed it down a little bit. I keep (emotions) inside and just talk to my team.”

It helps that her natural athleticism allows her to guard most positions on the floor.

“She can play some good defense. I think she’s one of the best defensive players in the conference,” Ruffin said. He also highlighted freshman Laquisha Woolard. She’s averaging a steal per game, but is also picking up 2.4 fouls per contest.

“Laquisha isn’t afraid. She’s not going to back down. Once she really understands how to play defense, she’s going to be very good at it.”

Symone Ruffin gets in the face of a Tarboro player.

Those underclassmen players have also had role models to follow. Symone Ruffin’s offensive capabilities are well established. It’s her defense, however, that helps her push the tempo during games. Her quick feet make her hard for opposing guards to get around. She leads the team with 6.1 steals per game.

“It’s good having her on the floor. It’s just like having another coach,” Ruffin said. “I know that a couple of times she’s changed the defense. She’s a good leader, and she leads by example.”

Southside’s defense got another shot — this time at home — against 1-A Coastal Plains Conference frontrunner Pamlico County. The Lady Hurricanes played for the 1-A state championship last season. They blew the Lady Seahawks out, 55-8, on their court back on Dec. 12.

If nothing else, the game was a chance for Southside to measure its improvement against one of the best teams in the state. That first meeting with Pamlico County was only its third game of the season. It was also part of a season-beginning stretch that saw the Lady Seahawks play their first seven games away from home.