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Yellow Jackets gear up for season with solid hopes

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Heath Joplin/For The Lancaster News

The Buford High School basketball teams sport a buzz of excitement as the 2013-14 season nears.

BHS girls coach T.J. Armbrust has a young team, but one blessed with speed and height.

The Jackets boys of coach Neil Couch are hopeful with the return of a host of veteran players.

Armbrust enters his sixth season as the BHS girls coach and he could possibly have more unknowns than the previous five years combined.

The 2013-14 squad returns only two seniors, Tatyana Stewart and Ashley Roberts. Stewart averaged three points a game last winter.

Those two players along with juniors, Valerie Jones and Courtney Snipes, are the only upperclassmen on the BHS girls roster.

“This is by far the most inexperienced team I’ve had,” Armbrust said. “When you have a team this young and unproven, the realm of possibilities are wide open.”

Though the Lady Jackets are young, they are one of the more athletic teams Armbrust said he has fielded.

“Obviously, that helps us two-fold,” Armbrust said. “Offensively, we can push the ball and for an up-tempo style we want to play.

“Defensively, it allows us to play more man-to-man, be more disruptive and force turnovers. Simply stated, the athleticism and speed give us more options to do different things,” he said.

Another positive for this year’s squad is that they are long. Last year’s leading rebounder Gabrielle Davis returns for her sophomore season.

Davis led the four Lancaster County girls teams in rebounding, pulling down 12.7 a game. Davis, who averaged 7.4 points per game, also earned the team’s Best Defensive Award.

Davis, at 5-11, along with the 5-9 Roberts give the Lady Jackets a formidable front court. Add 6-1 sophomore Autumn Rabon and 5-9 newcomer Hanna Robinson, and BHS has much-needed depth as well.

Sophomores Ty Hough and Betty Ingram are up from the Junior Lady Jackets’ team. Rounding out the roster is eighth grader Jasona Ballard.

The region should be as competitive as ever.

Andrew Jackson is picked to win the region, while being challenged by Central, Chesterfield and Cheraw, respectively. The Lady Jackets are picked fifth in the preseason poll followed by Indian Land.

“It will be tough as always,” Armbrust said. “There’s a lot of talent in our region. With that said, I feel we can compete with any team.”

A tough non-region schedule will help the Lady Jackets prepare for region play.

North Central, Great Falls, and Lewisville are back as non-region opponents. The BHS slate also includes Ben Lippen Academy and Parkwood in neighboring Union County, N.C. Parkwood is a consistent power in North Carolina girls prep hoops.

It will be a season-long challenge, but Armbrust regards the BHS girls as coachable and working well together.

All are capable of contributing early and often. Last year’s squad finished 3-7 in region play and 11-10 overall.

Most likely everyone will have to contribute if they are to improve on those records and make a playoff run.    

 

Balance for boy’s team

For the BHS varsity boys, Neil Couch enters his fourth year as head coach of the Jackets and to say he is optimistic would be an understatement.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Couch said. “This is one of the more balanced teams we have had. If we play up to our capabilities, this could be a very good year for us.”

Last year, the Jackets finished 2-8 in region play and 8-10 overall.

If the Jackets do live up to their potential, they will rely heavily on their only two returning seniors, Kholby Pate and Corey Bracey, both 2012-13 all-region selections.

Pate, the BHS MVP and Best Offense Award winner, averaged 12.8 points and 3.3 rebounds.

Bracey hit 6.4 points and grabbed 6.3 rebounds a game.

“Those guys really lead by example on and off the court,” Couch said. “That type of leadership is essential if we are to accomplish the things we want to.”

Also returning from last year’s squad are juniors Garrett Crenshaw and Orantez Coleman.

“Their experience is invaluable,” Couch said. “Along with Pate and Bracey, they are the only four returners with significant varsity playing time.”

That could potentially be a concern, especially early on.

That means that a lot will be expected of junior Jesse Stacks, along with sophomores Christian Joplin, Wade Lambert, and Druw Rollings. All of those players saw varsity time last year, but primarily spent last season on the Junior Jackets team.

Stacks received the team’s Hustle Award and Joplin earned the Junior Jackets Jacket Pride Award.

Rounding out this year’s roster are first year seniors Tomas Hayden and Tijuan Dixon, sophomore D.J. Stradford and freshman Rhylee Blackmon.

“One of the strengths of this team is their work ethic,” Couch said. “They practice hard and truly want to get better. They have a respect for the game and for each other as well.”

Team speed will be a plus for this year’s squad. That speed should allow the Jackets to push the ball and force tempo offensively. Defensively, team speed should enable them to be more aggressive.

Height should also work to Buford’s advantage this year.

The 2013-14 squad has six players over six feet tall. That should be a definite advantage as far as rebounds are concerned, not to mention possible altered shots and deflected passes.

Offensively, a long squad should help in the post game.

Buford will be well-prepared for region play thanks to a tough non-region schedule.

“Lewisville, North Central and Great Falls always challenge us,” Couch said. “Adding Parkwood and Ben Lippen Academy will only add to that. We will face athletic and well-coached teams that will really push us to get ready for region play.”

Cheraw is picked to finish first in the preseason poll followed by Indian Land, Andrew Jackson, Buford, Chesterfield and Central.

“It’s a tough region,” Couch said. “But we believe we can play with any of those teams. We’re ready to play.”

Buford opens its season Monday, Dec. 2, when the Jackets host North Central. The Jackets will also be at home Tuesday, Dec. 3, to face Great Falls.