Kadirah Sanders admits to feeling some jitters before taking the floor for her first varsity basketball game in two years – and doing so with a new team.
If opening night is any indication, those worries were unfounded. The 6-foot senior center, who last played as a sophomore at Paulsboro, looks like she’s going to be a solid addition to a Woodbury team with huge aspirations.
Sanders had six points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots while serving as a disruptive force on defense as the Thundering Herd opened the 2022-23 basketball season Thursday with a 57-37 win over Haddon Township in a Colonial Conference Liberty Division game played at Rowan College at Gloucester County in Deptford.
Senior forward Alexis Davis, a St. Bonaventure commit, led the herd with 26 points and 19 rebounds as she embarks on her journey toward 2,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds.
It wasn’t exactly home sweet home for the Herd, who will be playing their home games at RCGC this season after Woodbury’s historic Cap Paine Gymnasium was condemned as structurally unsafe earlier this year, but they looked pretty comfortable in their temporary quarters.
Sanders, who sat out last season after showing so much promise as a sophomore, transferred to Woodbury during the summer and can help the Herd offset the graduation loss of Nile Miller and JaNazha Clinton, two standouts on a 24-win team.
“The nerves were jumping,” Sanders said. “I was really scared. I didn’t know if I’d do well or not, but I think I did pretty good for my first game back after a couple years. I’ve just got to keep pushing myself to get better. I’m really excited about getting a chance to play with Alexis Davis.”
With Sanders manning the middle of the paint for Woodbury’s 2-3 zone, the Hawks had little success penetrating the lane for easy baskets. Instead, they were forced to rely on outside shooting and didn’t hit enough baskets to keep it close.
Woodbury led from start to finish, jumping out to an 8-1 lead and leading 18-6 by the end of the first quarter.
“I love playing defense,” Sanders said. “Defense wins games and you’ve got to work hard.”
Added the 6-foot Davis: “With both of us in the paint together, teams are going to be scared to come in there.”
Woodbury also dominated the boards, scoring a bunch of points on rebounds and putbacks at the offensive end.
Davis had 18 points and 12 rebounds in the first half alone. The Herd went on a 7-0 run to start the second quarter and built a 25-6 advantage, eventually taking a 27-14 lead into intermission.
They maintained a comfortable lead the rest of the way and posted their fourth straight win over the Hawks.
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Junior guard Maya Braxton-Young, another transfer student, had a tough-shooting first half but came alive in the second half, scoring all 13 of her points after the break, while fellow junior Abby Bash added eight points.
After winning the Colonial Patriot a year ago, the Herd was promoted to the big-school Liberty Division and will play Township, Haddonfield, Sterling, Haddon Heights and West Deptford twice this season.
Woodbury coach Rahmod Noel hopes Thursday’s win sets a tone for the season.
“We’re looking forward to playing these great teams twice,” Noel said. “It’s such a competitive conference and all five of those teams bring that spirit. We’ve been waiting for this for the past four weeks. Haddon Township is a very good team. (Coach Tom Mulligan) does a great job. They’re a consistent winner, so this is a good win for us.
“Our communication was solid tonight. We talked more than we did in our scrimmages and that’s what we need to do.”
Kiersten Callahan had a big game in a losing cause for Township, finishing with a team-high 18 points, including four 3-pointers.
Woodbury should be a top contender for the South Jersey Group 1 championship this winter, and that’s a goal that will push Davis, who has never won a sectional crown. When the Herd won its first-ever sectional title three years ago, Davis was playing at Glassboro.
“That’s a common goal for all of us, but I know she really wants that,” Noel said.
Davis, the South Jersey Times Player of the Year as both a sophomore and junior, admits that last season’s 50-38 loss to Wildwood in the South Jersey Group 1 final stung.
“Losing to Wildwood was upsetting but it will definitely motivate me and drive me,” Davis said. “I want to win a sectional title; I want to win states – and with this team I believe we can do it. We’re learning to play together as a team and I think we did pretty well for our first game. We’re jelling with each other and getting to know our weaknesses and strengths.”
Sanders is hopeful.
“If we work on what we’ve got to work on, we can be great,” she predicted. “We’ve got this.”
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