By Marty Gordon
Blacksburg High School Bruins
Blacksburg girls’ basketball head coach Roger Henderson has spent over a dozen of years dealing with the sport’s changing environment, but like others in his profession, 2020-21 is a whole new world.
Because of COVID-19, Montgomery County schools are requiring student-athletes to wear masks when they practice and compete, and other restrictions continue to affect the teams. So far, the rising coronavirus numbers have not allowed county teams to compete against anyone but themselves. Henderson said that has been huge. “It’s tough to improve team-wise,” he said.
“The players have really been tough-minded on and off the court,” the boss Bruin said. “They come to practice and give great effort most days. That’s hard without the promise of games. They are taking care of themselves off the court. Our families, at the jayvee and varsity level, are invested in seeing their children have some semblance of a competitive season.”
If and when the Bruins hit the court, they could be competitive. They did lose all-district and all-region performer Skyler Prosser from a 13-13 2019-2020 season, but returning is an experienced squad with two seniors and four juniors.
As 5-9 senior guard Danielle Gresh goes, so will this year’s Bruins. The double-figure scorer leads a team that also includes 5-6 twin, McKenzie and Morgan Cheynet, senior Lillian Mosser and five sophomores.
“I think we would have the opportunity to be competitive in the region again,” Henderson said. “We have athletes who can move and get after it. Our returning group got a taste of what it takes to compete last year.”
Eastern Montgomery High School Mustangs
Eastern Montgomery is coming off one of the best years in the history of the school. The Mustangs won the Pioneer District regular season and tournament titles in route to a 17-8 mark before losing to county rival Auburn in the state quarters.
Returner Eli Underwood was named the Pioneer District and All-county/All-city player of the year while averaging 13 points, 6.8 points and 4.2 steals per contest.
Heads coach Kelley Sutphin was named the Pioneer District and All-county/All-city coach of the year.
The Mustangs return four other players with lots of experience: Maddie Bruce (8.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game), Lilly Underwood (6.9 points and 3.4 rebounds), and Morgan Bahnken and Logan Boone, who are big on the boards.
Sutphin is hoping to play soon and maybe get back to normal practice and competitions.
The area’s three other schools, Radford, Christiansburg and Auburn, all have new head coaches this season.
Radford High School Bobcats
Timothy Worles, who is a full-time minister at Calvary Baptist Church in Radford, had served as an assistant for the past few years before taking over the reins of the Radford girls’ team this season. His wife, Hannah, will serve his assistant coach.
Worles played for Rick Cormany’s 2011 state championship team while Hannah-Kait won the same year as a member of the Lady Bobcats.
Worles played four years at Piedmont International University, which is now Carolina University in Winston-Salem, N.C. (National Christian College Athletic Association Division 1). He was voted to the All-Southern Conference and All-NCCAA academic All-American teams. In his senior year, Piedmont won the conference tournament and made it to the NCCAA national tourney.
The husband-and-wife coaching team will receive some help from Radford grad Jada Penn, who played collegiately at Emory and Henry.
So far, the Bobcats have played a shortened schedule with five straight wins that includes a win over Floyd for the first time in five years.
“We have such a great group of girls right now who love the game but most importantly love life,” the head coach said. “We are having a blast and are already coming together as a tight-knit family.”.
Radford was 14-8 last season and returns a strong core group. Senior Maggie Turk serves as a leader on and off the court and is joined by 5-11 Laney Cline, who was second team All-Three Rivers District last year.
Radford is one of a group of schools in the area that will dress a set of twins this season. 5-6 sophomore guards Hannah and Haley Whitt could see considerable playing time this year. Senior Makenzie Page could also be important for the Bobcats.
“I firmly believe we have the toughest district in our division,” Worles said. “Floyd and Carroll always seem to be at the top, whereas everyone else is capable of beating any one on any given night. Every game will be seen as a new challenge for us.”
Worles is no different from other local and area coaches in that the pandemic has affected the way his team approaches the season.
“It has certainly limited our off-season workouts and shortened our season,” the head Bobcat said. “Our schedule has been pushed back quite a bit due to other school districts not playing yet.”
Christiansburg High School Blue Demons
Lamont Calloway, who previously had coached the jayvee team at Christiansburg, takes over a varsity level group trying to find some winning ways after winning only 10 games in the past two years.
He does return two keys in Hannah Altizer (18.6 points per game) and Antwanniqua Banks (6.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.
To complete a nine-player roster, Calloway had to bring up two sophomores and three freshmen to the varsity squad.
Auburn High School Eagles
Kayla Ragsdale is the new girls’ head coach at Auburn. She returns 5-9 junior Hannah Huffman, who had several double-figure contests last year and was named to the All-Mountain Empire District team.
Juniors 5-10 Amelia Terry and 5-11 Allyson Martin will also play a critical role from a squad that won only four games a season ago.
“We’re still hopeful and excited to show our improved program,” Ragssale said. “However, we’re taking it one week at a time, but we will be ready for our first game whenever that will be. We’re not backing down this year.”
Girls’ district predictions:
Three Rivers District: 1) Carroll County 2) Floyd 3) Radford 4) Glenvar 5) Alleghany 6) Giles 7) James River.
River Ridge District: 1) Salem 2) William Fleming 3) Patrick Henry 4) Pulaski 5) Cave Spring 6) Blacksburg 7) Hidden Valley 8) Christiansburg.
Mountain Empire District: 1) George Wythe 2) Galax 3) Ft. Chiswell 4) Grayson 5) Auburn 6) Bland.
Pioneer District: 1) Eastern Montgomery 2) Covington 3) Narrows 4) Parry McCluer 5) Craig 6) Bath.