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Originally published: 2012-11-18 15:04:50
Last modified: 2012-11-18 15:04:50

Pioneers open basketball season vs. Avery

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

Very few basketball coaches, if any, feel their team is completely ready to play the first game of the season.

There is always a concern that is not completely addressed. Maybe it’s attacking a zone defense, or a team’s lack of understanding different man-to-man defenses that makes coaches wish they could put off the season opener for a week.

Watauga boys’ basketball coach Rob Sanders and girls’ coach Klay Anderson have the same misgivings that most coaches have, but zero hour is here for both coaches and their teams. Watauga hosts border rival Avery County Monday night at Lentz-Eggers Gym.

The girls’ game begins at approximately 6:30 p.m. The boys’ game follows.

The girls’ junior varsity starts the four-game event with a 4 p.m. showdown with Avery. The boys’ junior varsity, fresh off a 24-0 season in 2011-12, plays afterward.

Anderson feels more comfortable than most coaches at this time of the season. He likes the experience that returns from the 2011-12 team. The Pioneers participated in preseason jamborees in Charlotte and in Morganton, so they go in with some idea of how it feels to play somebody else.

“I feel as prepared as we’ve ever been since I’ve been here in the last six years,” Anderson said. “I’ve got the most amount of girls back I’ve ever had. We’ve got two good scrimmages under our belt. You never feel ready for the first game because you want it to be perfect and it’s never going to be perfect. I think we’re as ready as we’ve been in the past.”

The Mountaineers will play Monday without sophomore point guard Haleigh Wallace, who has a possible stress fracture in her leg. Wallace was the starting point guard last season, which was her freshman year.

That puts extra responsibility on senior guard-forward Hannah Margolis, who will take over the point guard duties. Margolis played point guard her sophomore season and played guard and on the post last season.

Margolis also plays point guard for her AAU team, according to Anderson.

“I think that’s where she feels very comfortable,” he said.

They take on an Avery team that returns several players that will rely on depth at the guard position, but lack post players.

Coached by Missy Lyons, the Vikings return senior guards Kelsie Clark and Kenzie Thomas. The Vikings lost their leading scorer and rebounder, Megan Tennant, to graduation.

Watauga returns its top two scorers in Margolis and guard Savanna Wood, a two-year starter and a three-year varsity player.

Watauga boys’ coach Rob Sanders would also like a few extra days practice, but feels good going into Monday night.

“The first game of the year is where all of the emotions are going to be running high,” Sanders said. “Everybody’s undefeated and it doesn’t hurt that you’re playing one of your bigger rivals with Avery. They are quite a bit of an unknown with a new coaching staff I expect them to more than likely run a lot more sets where in the past they’ve traditionally been a penetrate-and-pitch type of team.”

Avery is under the direction of first-year coach Scott Polsgrove, who has 20 years of college coaching experience, including a stint at Lees-McRae. Polsgrove told the Avery Journal-Times that he would also like a few extra practices to get a few things ready for Watauga.

“We are throwing a lot at them and they have a lot to learn,” Polsgrove told the Journal. We’ll make some mistakes and it will be a process. As much as I’d like us to be playing great basketball when we open on Nov. 19 at Watauga, that probably won’t be the case.”

Watauga will be mixing seven veterans from the 2011-12 team with five players off the junior varsity team that went 24-0 last season.

Watauga also has several players from its football team that are still trying to get into good enough condition to play extended minutes on the basketball court. They played just one playoff game at the end of the football season, which helped them get to the court quicker.

“They need about a three or four week turnaround to really get into basketball condition,” Sanders said. “You can be in the best football shape of your life, and be three to four weeks behind in basketball conditioning. They’re coming along very well and a lot of that is that we have been doing a lot of extra conditioning in practice.”