2016-17 Girls Basketball Coach of the Year: Kenney leads young Skyline squad to successful year

Jim Kenney Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Jim Kenney knew it wouldn’t be easy for his team to have a successful season.

The Skyline girls basketball coach had a team with only one senior and faced a tough schedule, but the Hawks came together to produce the program’s first non-losing season in at least four years. The Hawks doubled their win total from last year.

“It was probably one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve had,” Kenney said. “We ended up 12-12 and a lot of people would look at that and say what are you talking about, you were 500? Considering that we had one senior and that we played a lot of our games with freshmen and sophomores getting big minutes — I just really enjoyed it.”

Kenney, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2016-17 Girls Basketball Coach of the Year, said that at the start of the pre-season he knew the team had a long ways to go. He said a 34-32 win over Clarke County on Dec. 9 was the first sign he had that his team might have a strong year.

The Hawks followed that up with a double-overtime loss to Brentsville, who eventually advanced to regionals. They also knocked off cross-town rival Warren County twice. He said a win late in the season against William Monroe also helped the confidence of his team.

Kenney said that even losses in the very difficult Northwestern District helped. They beat Handley twice, and played hard-fought games against Sherando and James Wood. All of the schools in the Northwestern District are bigger than Skyline and play at the group 4A level, while Skyline is a 3A school.

“We don’t play cupcake games in our non-conference schedule,” Kenney said. “When we play Millbrook twice and Sherando twice James Wood twice and usually Handley’s very darn good too, that just toughens us up. And then when we go into a place like William Monroe for example, we feel like we can win that.”

The Hawks won their Conference 28 quarterfinal game over Riverside, and then had to play at top-seeded Culpeper. The Hawks trailed Culpeper, who eventually advanced to the Group 3A state tournament, by only 5 points entering the fourth period before losing 54-42.

Kenney said there were a lot of things that came together for the Hawks to have the season they had.

He said the players had great team chemistry.

“The chemistry on the team this year was probably about as good as I’ve seen in a number of years among the players,” Kenney said. “Everybody seemed to really enjoy being around one another and that’s a hard thing to do.”

He said he had some players really step up, including some of the younger ones. Sophomores Rachel Sirbaugh and Colette Salyers were two of the team’s top scorers, and he said Salyers really improved from the beginning of the season to the end.

The team’s lone senior, Nikea Whitmore, led the Hawks with 9.3 points per contest.

“I’m so happy for Nikea,” Kenney said. “This was something that she really wanted. She wanted to win some conference games. She wanted to win some games in that tournament. We were all disappointed that we couldn’t do it against Culpeper, but she played a heck of a game. She had a really good season.”

Kenney said that his entire coaching staff also played a key role in the team’s success. He said he feels like he has the best coaching staff in the area.

Assistant coach Sonny Dyke has been a head coach for both boys and girls basketball in the area for a number of years, and Kenney said he’s very important to the team.

“He’s just such a good teacher of the game, and he’s a good advocate of the game,” Kenney said of Dyke. “He loves it. The girls love him. It just makes all the difference in the world. It really, really does.”

Kenney also said the parents have been great to work with, as well as the entire administration.

Kenney said it was really great being able to coach his daughter, Jordan, a freshman on the varsity team this season.

“She really did things where she got better and better as the season progressed,” Kenney said of Jordan. “Her and Emma (Benson) the two freshmen, who really got a lot of time, and they just got better and better.”

Kenney said that the JV team also had a very successful season, so he has high hopes for the program over the next few years.

He said one of the best qualities about his team this year was their competitiveness.

“I’ve had teams in the past where when another team went on a run we would just shrivel up. This team doesn’t do that,” Kenney said. “I think that’s probably the thing I’m proudest of is the mentality of the girls this year was, it doesn’t matter if the other team goes on a 10-0 run we’re still in this thing. And they showed what I call grittiness. We showed a lot of grit this year.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com