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Pam Pack girls look to rebound under new coach

Everything is new for the Washington High School girls basketball team as they start an abbreviated season Wednesday at home against league rival Kinston.

New coach, new system, new attitude and even new masks as all teams across North Carolina do their best to comply with the state association mandate.

Veteran coach Neal Carr takes over a Pam Pack girls program that made the state playoffs three straight years before stumbling to a forgettable 7-16 mark last year. Carr is back on the bench for the first time in five years after leading North Pitt to a 2016 state title.

Arissa Kim, Mary Emma Holscher and Kamiya Woodley are the three senior returnees. Juniors Ayanna Davis, Samaiya Edwards, Olivia Paszt and Machina Warren, sophomores Quanique Mooney, Or‘Nisha Norman and Haley Whitley along with freshmen Triniti Burke and Katlin White round out the roster.

“We can tell Coach Carr cares about us and wants to make us better,” Kim said. “There’s no fooling around in practice and we’ve learned a lot more about how to play. We’ve improved a lot since we started and we’re very excited to finally play.”

14 games are on the slate, including just a pair of non-conference contests instead of the usual 22-24 and there is no conference tournament this year. The Pam Pack has been .500 or better in the Eastern Carolina 2A conference the past three seasons and draw the perennial powerhouse Vikings right out of the gate. Kinston has won 40 consecutive league games since a loss to South Lenoir four seasons ago.

“You always have to test the water before you jump in and this will be a great test for us,” Carr said. “We’ll see where we are in a hurry and we’ll learn a lot from it either way.”

Carr was hired in August and immediately started small group workouts. He’s had the entire team together almost daily since formal practice started in early December. He prefers to play a scrappy defensive game with points coming from a transition offensive after turnovers, but that wasn’t the focus at the beginning.

“I, and my assistants, had to change their mindset,” Carr explained. “I actually had a couple of them tell me they were used to being laughed at and they felt like they had already lost before the game even started. They’ve done a 360 on that and have bought into what we are teaching. I feel more like Mr. Carr the teacher (of fundamentals) than Coach Carr so far. Now they look like winners. They are in much better condition to play the way we need to play and they like playing in our system.”

Carr’s tenure at North Pitt came to an abrupt end after a fight between one of his players and an opponent broke out in the last regular season game four years ago ultimately cost him his job.

“I am excited to return to coaching and thank the Washington High School administration for the opportunity to do so,” Carr said. “I was a little nervous at the beginning and wondered if my coaching spirit would come back. These girls have made me realize how much I love to coach and how much I missed it. I’m excited to start the season.”

There’s a limit of 25 fans for home games and tickets will be distributed to players families. There will be no tickets sold to the public.