Originally posted by Tim Hayes on www.kgw.com
CHILHOWIE, Va. – Danielle Catron and Ckareekeea Branch. Ckareekeea Branch and Danielle Catron.
Every game for the past four years, Chilhowie High School girls basketball coach Mark Halsey has written those two names in the scorebook and marked them down as starters.
Then he’s watched as Catron piled up the points and Branch wreaked havoc on the defensive end.
“We’re kind of like a tag-team with my offense and her defense,” Catron said. “We work well together and always have.”
Teammates since the fifth grade and through the rigors of hundreds of games and thousands of practices, Catron and Branch have indeed formed an unbreakable bond. Tonight, they’ll play in the biggest game of their prep careers as Chilhowie (23-1) faces Clintwood (19-7) in the semifinals of the VHSL Region 1A West tournament at Virginia High’s Bearcat Den.
As usual, two familiar names will be penciled in the starting lineup.
“Their assets are obvious to everybody that’s watched them play very much,” Halsey said. “It’s definitely nice to have those two on the same team together. … We’re lucky to have that combination.”
Sticking with it
At one time, the dynamic duo was part of a promising quintet.
In 2011, Chilhowie heavily relied on five freshmen and won 14 games.
In 2014, Catron and Branch are the only two seniors on Chilhowie’s roster.
Players come. Players go.
“That speaks well of them,” Halsey said. “It’s like that as long as I’ve been coaching. The groups that start together, you don’t always end up with who you think will be there at the end. Not saying anything’s wrong with anybody’s decision, that’s just the nature of sports. [Catron and Branch] have hung with it and are doing a great job for us. They are great leaders on and off the floor.”
While three of their friends gave up on basketball, some choosing to focus on other athletic endeavors, Catron and Branch’s hoop dreams still burn brightly.
“It was hard losing players each year, but we just stuck with it and we wanted to go to state,” Branch said. “That was our dream since day one of Lady Wizards basketball.”
The Smyth County Lady Wizards were an AAU team – coached by Danielle’s father, P.J., a high school basketball star in his own right back in the day – that finished fourth in a national 12-under tournament in 2009.
While Catron and Branch were making a splash on the highly-competitive AAU circuit, Chilhowie High School’s girls basketball program was doing plenty of winning too. The Warriors reached the state semifinals in 2008 and 2010.
“I remember going to watch them at Richmond in the state [semifinals] and I was so excited and I was like, that’s going to be me in high school and my team,” Branch said. “Hopefully, that will be us this year.”
Branch and Catron are as close as sisters, but their playing styles are completely different.
Branch is a terror on D, always guarding the best offensive player on the opposing team.
“She’s the best defender in the state in my opinion,” Catron said. “She can shut down anybody. She’s tough. Her quickness, nobody can get by her.”
For Branch, forcing a turnover or coming up with a steal is just as exhilarating as hitting a 3-pointer or driving to the hoop for a layup.
“Defense, it came natural to me when I started playing basketball,” Branch said. “I like the rush of it, trying to steal the ball.”
Meanwhile, Catron has scored more than 2,000 career points and can put the ball in the hoop in a number of different ways.
“I enjoy playing with her and watching her grow as a player,” Branch said. “We really can use her points and she contributes the way she can.”
‘Win or go home’
Catron scored 27 points on Tuesday as Chilhowie posted a 62-53 victory over Covington in the first round of the regional tournament.
While Chilhowie has compiled a 74-23 record over the past four seasons, it was the Warriors’ first regional tourney triumph during that span.
“It felt really good,” Branch said. “My adrenaline was high after that.”
Branch will actually compete in the VHSL state indoor track and field meet at Liberty University this afternoon, before returning to the area for tonight’s game against the Greenwave.
Then it will be time for the Warriors to take the floor with Catron and Branch. Branch and Catron.
“It’s still win or go home, so that puts a little pressure on us,” Catron said. “But I think if we stay focused and stay calm and come out and do the little things and take care of business, we’ll be fine.”
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