By Carey Phillips
Basketball practice for Smoky Mountain in the COVID-19 delayed season will begin Monday.
The crossover of sports in the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s revised calendar has presented some unique challenges. Typically players from football, soccer and cross country miss the first part of basketball practice. That’s not the case this year, but a conflict will arise when soccer starts practice Jan. 11 and games Jan. 25.
“Its been nice since we started workouts in July to have all our kids there, but it’s also in the back of my mind that halfway through the season some of our kids will be transitioning to soccer,” Coach Adam Phillips said.
“Our coaches and kids have been very resilient,” he said of navigating COVID-19 issues. “They have been at virtually every workout. It’s been slow at workouts as far as what we can and can’t do.”
A recent NCHSAA rule requires players to wear face coverings during workouts. The NCHSAA has not said whether that rule will be in place for official practices as well.
“It’s been a little difficult,” Phillips said of the masks. “We’ve had to give them more breaks. It’s been shooting more than anything, but with every obstacle that’s been thrown their way they have responded. They haven’t used it as an excuse.”
Senior guard Ryan Waliezer is the most experienced returnee after starting several games for a 14-11 team that tied for second in the Mountain Six Conference and reached the MSC Tournament finals.
“I’m very excited,” Phillips said. “We are a young team. We don’t have a lot of experience coming back other than Ryan and Hunter Cabe a little bit. All the kids have had a high commitment level and gotten after it. They have tackled COVID head-on.”
Tyler Mulligan has moved up to varsity assistant, and Zeb Capps is now JV coach. Stephen Parsons is the JV assistant.
The Lady Mustangs went 13-12 last season and placed fourth in the conference.
“What a crazy time this is,” Coach Ollin Dunford said. “I’ve been extremely pleased with the participation and the way the girls have been showing up to workouts. They’re eager to get back on the court, but we couldn’t go up and down the court or play defense during the workouts.”
He said the increased time before practice starts has had some benefits.
“A lot of the upcoming sophomores got to learn what we do and how we do it,” Dunford said. “We won’t have to spend a lot of time learning offensive plays. We will work on conditioning and getting after it.”
He said the mask mandate has been “a little rough” at times.
“We’ve been doing a lot of stationary stuff instead of running up and down the court,” Dunford said.
Volleyball season will last until at least the end of December creating a conflict for players who play both sports The coach said those players will be expected to be at basketball practice unless it is the day of a volleyball match.
“It’s going to be very tough,” Dunford said. “Between varsity and JV, I think we may have seven or eight girls in volleyball.”
Senior Natalie Parris is a returning all-conference player.
“I am so excited about what’s to come,” Dunford said. “We’re going to be better. We are putting in a new offense, and they have really bought in on it. Some sophomores who were on the JVs last year are expected to help.”
The coaching staff is the same, with Jerrod Boone the varsity assistant and Jason Melvin coaching the JVs, assisted by Marissa Ellsworth.
A home scrimmage against Swain is set for Dec. 31.
There have been some changes from the schedule announced earlier. Instead of the usual Tuesday and Friday league games, the teams will typically play on Wednesdays and either Fridays or Saturdays. The schedule is as follows:
Jan. 7 – Mitchell; 9 – at Mitchell; 13 – Pisgah; 16 – Hendersonville at East Henderson; 20 – Brevard; 22 – East Henderson; 27 – at Franklin; 30 – at Pisgah.
Feb. 3 – Hendersonville; 5 – at Brevard; 10 – at East Henderson; 13 – Franklin.