Pioneers bring back solid core of players
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Most of all, he likes the depth.
The Pioneers go into their game against Avery Monday night with 12 players, several whom are interchangeable. The Pioneers have four point guards, seven wing players, including three of the point guards, and four players who are at least 6-foot-4 tall.
Having depth gives the Pioneers versatility that they need to compete in the Northwestern Conference championship despite losing five seniors from the team from 2011-12. Five players from Watauga’s junior varsity team that finished 24-0 last season have replaced them.
“We’ve got a good group of talented kids coming up from the jayvees joining a solid core of varsity players,” Sanders said. “The biggest challenge right now is meshing the two. With the jayvee team last year going undefeated, they play really well together. Now you’ve got new bodies in the mix, so the last few weeks we’ve been mixing them up and trying to figure out chemistry wise which groups play the best together.”
Sanders has a plethora of point guards to turn to going into Monday night. He’ll likely start DeWayne Mackey (5-8), who is a returning veteran from last season.
Sanders also has returning guard Sub Steury (5-8) and 5-7 Eli Gailes, who is up from the jayvee team.
Ben Margolis (6-2) can also play the point if the Pioneers want to either add size to the backcourt, or if the Pioneers want to use bigger players. Sanders said he usually likes to have just two point guards and another wing guard who can play the point in an emergency.
He acknowledged that isn’t the case with this team.
“It’s not exactly the mix we have this year,” Sanders said. “As we probably have four true post players and we’ve got some wings that can play post, and we’ve got a lot of guys who can run point. To me, that’s the most important position on the floor. Right now, it’s still an ongoing battle.”
Or the Pioneers can use a bigger lineup of 6-5 Allen Koppenhaver, Tyler Sturgill (6-4), Ben Howser (6-5), Matt Lambert (6-4), and Jay Harrill (6-3) with any of the point guards, or the wing guards.
Collin Augustine (6-2) gives the frontline some strength, even though he’s questionable for the game Monday with an injured hand he hurt during practice. Augustine broke his collarbone during the football season, but that has healed.
Watauga can also turn to Cam Baker (6-1) and Trevor Eggers (5-9) along the wing to either shoot the ball or drive to the basket.
“There’s a lot of different lineups we can go with,” Sanders said. “We can go small and very athletic. We can go big and not really lose a whole lot of athleticism, but create a lot of matchup problems for opponents because we can put some really big guards on the floor and big post players and have three or four guys who are 6-4 or better, which is always nice.”
The five players off the junior varsity — Baker, Gailes, Eggers, Harrill and Lambert — have been forced to make adjustments on the varsity level. The five players were key in leading the Pioneers jayvees to an undefeated season, but varsity defenses are going to be more difficult to solve.
Watauga’s JV team was able to get into its running game quickly and often raced pass overmatched opponents. Sanders likes the talent level of the jayvees that moved up, but cautioned that there is an adjustment period.
“The biggest problem we’re having with the five guys off the jayvee team meshing with the varsity guys is the jayvees relied heavily on that open offense,” Sanders said. “You can cut and move and do all that type of stuff and have a whole lot of success against the majority of jayvee defenses you’re going to run up against. Sooner or later, at the varsity level, you’re going to have to execute plays and set screens and get to the right spots on the floor in order to take advantage of your better defenses. Right now, this point early on in the season, we’re struggling to get those offenses down to where we can execute them at game speed.”
They’ll get that chance Monday at home against Avery. Watauga plays its first three games at home this season, starting with Avery and then continuing Nov. 27 against Wilkes Central and Nov. 30 against Ashe.
Watauga’s junior varsity team goes into the 2011-12 season with just four sophomores and 10 freshmen.
Matt Tyndall (6-0), Hunter Shore (5-9) and T.J. Poulos (5-8) are the holdovers from the team that went 24-0 last season. Watauga also adds Utah Jones, a 5-9 sophomore who transferred to Boone from Stillwater, Okla.
Watauga’s biggest players are also its youngest. Aaron Dobbins, the starting quarterback for Watauga’s final three games, stands 6-3. Dobbins made the final shot that gave Hardin Park a victory over Blowing Rock in the finals of the middle school basketball tournament.
Two players from Blowing Rock, Levi Wilcox and Zach Valet, are both 6-1. Michael Ebaugh, who played receiver for the Watauga junior varsity football team, but was also brought up to the varsity at the end of the season, is 6-3.
Dillon Carmichael and Shea Powers are also 6-1, and Harrison Cobb is 6-0, which gives the junior Pioneers eight players who are at least 6-0.
Holden Russell (5-9) and Caleb Bryson round out the Watauga backcourt.
The Pioneers open their season Monday against Avery. They’ll also play in the Ashe County Junior Varsity Tournament on Nov. 23-24.
Watauga boys' varsity roster
No. Name Pos. Ht. Class
3. Jay Harrill Wing 6-3 Jr.
4. Sub Steury PG/Wing 5-8 Sr.
5. Trevor Eggers Wing 5-9 Sr.
11. Tyler Sturgill F 6-4 Sr.
12. Eli Gailes PG 5-7 Jr.
15. Collin Augustine F 6-2 Sr.
20. Ben Margolis wing 6-2 Sr.
21. Allen Koppenhaver C 6-6 Sr.
22. Cam Baker Wing/F 6-1 Jr.
23. Ben Howser Wing/F 6-5 Sr.
24. DeWayne Mackey PG/Wing 5-8 Sr.
25. Matt Lambert F/C 6-4 So.
Nov. 19 AVERY
Nov. 23/24 JV tournament at Ashe
Nov. 27 WILKES CENTRAL
Nov. 30 ASHE COUNTY
Dec. 4 at McDowell
Dec. 7 at Avery
Dec. 11 MCDOWELL
Dec. 18 *at Fred T. Foard
Dec. 20 WEST CALDWELL
Dec. 27/28 Alleghany
Jan 4. *HICKORY
Jan. 8 at Wilkes Central
Jan. 9 at Ashe
Jan. 11 *at Alex. Central
Jan. 15. *at So. Caldwell
Jan. 18 *at Hibriten
Jan. 22 *ST STEPHENS
Jan. 25 *FRED T. FOARD
Jan. 29 *at Hickory
Feb. 5 *ALEX. CENTRAL
Feb. 8 *SOUTH CALDWELL
Feb. 12 *HIBRITEN (Senior Night)
Feb. 15 *at St. Stephens
*Denotes Northwestern Conference game
Schedule also includes
junior varsity. Girls’ JVs begins at 4, followed by the boys’ JV, girls’ varsity and boys’ varsity.