Former Wingate University guard Kate Edwards remembers helping a young girl develop her passion for the sport several years ago during one of Wingate’s summer youth basketball camps.
The young girl Edwards assisted turned out to be Emry Tsitouris, the Parkwood star forward. Edwards certainly didn’t know it at the time, but accepting a position as coach at Parkwood this season meant that she would be reunited with Tsitouris, who has developed into one of the Rebels most versatile athletes ever to come through the program.
Tsitouris, a 5-10 power forward and four-year varsity starter, began turning heads during her sophomore season, where she averaged an impressive double-double with 15.5 points and 13.0 rebounds. Last season, she bumped her averages up to 19.3 points and 15.3 rebounds – the highest in Union County – and reached the 1,000-point marker midway through the season, joining only 11 others in Parkwood school history.
Tsitouris was the Rebels leading scorer last season, helping them to a 16-9 record under coach Don Mather, who retired at the end of last year. But that’s only a small portion of her value on the court. What really makes Tsitouris stand out from the rest of Union County’s top scorers is her ability to pull down rebounds.
Tsitouris corralled a remarkable 25 rebounds and shot 67 percent from the floor in the third game of the season last year against Charlotte Country Day, contributing to the 47-36 win. She hauled in 20 rebounds and added 28 points a few weeks later against Anson in a testament to her ability to dominate underneath the basket.
“It’s a very unique quality, especially in girls basketball,” Edwards said. “It’s something that, if you have someone like Emry, you’re going to use it to your advantage. It’s special.”
As Edwards prepares the Rebels for their first game of the season next week against Sun Valley, she knows that her offense will be built around Tsitouris and plans to have her spend a lot of minutes at the top of the key.
“She’s a triple threat,” Edwards said. “She passes well, she’s good off the dribble and she can shoot from the outside. We’re going to try and incorporate her at the top of the key, because we’re more confident when our offense goes through her. If she touches the ball, we feel like that puts us in the best situation to get points.”
Tsitouris’ talent on the court can be traced back to her childhood, when she began playing basketball at a young age and immediately fell in love with the sport. Her mother played collegiately at Wingate and helped develop Tsitouris as an athlete, spending hours at the gym year round. But despite Tsitouris’ impressive stats, her dominance on the court boils down to a few basic principles.
“I play hard. It’s what I’ve always done since I was little. It really comes down to how bad you want the ball and that’s what I’m trying to do, is get the ball,” she said. “I guess you could say that’s where the talent comes from, is from the drive that I have.”
With three years of impressive varsity experience under her belt, Tsitouris plans to make her senior season the most memorable yet, and she has plenty of help in order to do so.
Six-foot sophomore center Brittany Autry will add a powerful post presence down low. Autry averaged 11.4 points and 9.6 rebounds last year and shot 57 percent from the floor as a freshman. Having Autry in the paint will give Tsitouris leeway to move out from under the basket.
“Having Brittany down low helps Emry because it takes some of the weight off her, knowing that she can come out from underneath and feel like she still has plenty of rebounding help,” Edwards said.
“Brittany is really, really good,” Tsitouris added. “She’s extremely reliable under the basket and can put me in some layup positions, which helps me. This year, it’s not just going to be about me. It’s going to be a team effort.”
With Autry and Tsitouris under the basket, it gives the Rebel offense an easy go-to for points. But confining the power duo to their labels of “center” and “power forward” fails to capture their versatility on the court. They can shoot, handle the ball, rebound, play post and run the offense when needed.
“It’s a no-brainer that we’re going to look to Brittany to help Emry and us on offense,” Edwards said. “She’s got great hands and size, and she’s developing strategic moves. She’s a handful down low and when you have two strong post players, obviously that will be our go-to. They’re going to be dangerous and we’re going to use that to our advantage.”
Juniors Lauren Brown and Lillian Geehring will start at guard in the backcourt. Edwards says that both Brown and Geehring improved during the off-season and will look to fill in a leadership role from the guard position.
Senior Abby Lathan, who recently committed to play softball at Queens University of Charlotte, will be the final starter on the Rebel team as the season begins. Edwards describes Lathan as one of the Rebels most talented all-around athletes.
“Right now, we’re focusing on the little things,” Edwards said of her team’s efforts going into the start of the season. “We’re not necessarily focusing on scoring points, but on rebounding, free throws, getting to the free throw line, and the fundamentals. Our guards are focused on penetrating to the inside and helping the post players with rebounds.”
Tsitouris said she’s excited about beginning her senior season with a talented group of teammates, especially under a new coach who believes in an up-tempo, fast-paced game.
“If you can push it down the court, push it down the court,” Edwards said. “In our practices, we’re constantly trying to push up the tempo. A lot of our drills are fast-paced, but we aren’t going to run for no reason. We don’t want to get lost in the running – we want to be intentional. I definitely believe in pushing the ball, and why not score if you have the chance to?”
It’s likely the Rebel team will give Tsitouris plenty of opportunities to score, as she looks to boost her stats even more this year in order to prove her ability to play at the collegiate level.
At the beginning of this school year, Tsitouris committed to play at the University of South Carolina – Aiken, where she’s already looking forward to bringing her talents to the Pacer team.
“I’m so excited. I chose Aiken because they liked what I brought to their table and they didn’t want me to change my game,” Tsitouris said. “They liked the way I play and I like the way they play, so it works from both ends.
They’re a tough, hustle team, which is what I wanted.”
But for now, Tsitouris isn’t thinking too far ahead. She wants to fulfill an integral role in Edwards first season as coach at Parkwood.
“We’ve got a ton of potential to do some great things,” Tsitouris said. “It’s definitely going to be a good year.”