By Nick Ward
After Western Albemarle High School’s athletics programs dominated the Jefferson District this fall, with football, volleyball, field hockey, and the girls cross country team advancing far into the post season, the boys varsity basketball team hopes to do the same this winter. The team hopes to outdo its success last year when it placed second in the district in both the regular season and in the district tournament. The Warriors lost in the first round of the regional playoffs last year, and the team, led by four-year letterman Christian Pierce, hopes to advance further this year.
Pierce is surrounded by players with both great size and skill, making for a very impressive lineup for the Blue and Gold. A first team All-District performer last year in his junior season, Pierce wowed spectators with his scoring and his defense. In the off season, Pierce played for former University of Virginia basketball player Cade Lemcke in his East Coast Fusion AAU Program and gained experience against athletes from across the nation. A tall guard, Pierce is versatile: quick enough to break a defender down with the dribble, and strong enough to post up in the paint. Although his build suggests that he would play the small forward role, Pierce will see time as shooting guard for the Warriors. With his touch from the perimeter and because of his ball handling ability, it may become his responsibility to bring up the ball and start the offense. Because Western’s two point guards were preoccupied with the football playoffs, Pierce’s versatility may be a factor in the Warrior’s chances for early success.
Stephen Schuler, the team’s starting point guard, is an amazing athletic talent. Schuler, who was Jefferson District offensive player of the year on the gridiron playing quarterback, now hopes to help to lead the basketball team from the top of the key. It may take time for Schuler to get his basketball legs under him. But the senior point guard is a proven leader, and backing former varsity guard Ryan Hughes during the last two seasons. Schuler, who is also an All-District lacrosse defenseman, brings speed, quickness, and strength to the court and looks primed to make the most of his first season as a starter.
Senior forward Donte Crawford, who may be the best athlete on the Western team, has played for Coach Maynard for two seasons. Crawford has great jumping ability, making him a force on the boards. Crawford was also a member of the East Coast Fusion team. Crawford may turn out to be the difference-maker for the Warriors and, matched up with Pierce, should give Western a fearsome offensive duo.
Jake Nidiffer will play alongside Crawford in the post for the Warriors. Nidiffer has great size and athleticism as well as a knack for rebounding. Nidiffer was a receiver for the Warrior football team, and the toughness that he showed on the field shows on the court as well. Nidiffer is one of the Warrior’s best post-up options and his strength and shot-blocking ability makes him a strong defender.
Tyler Hester, a young player for Western, should see a lot of court time. A pure shooter, Hester may be able to replace some of the offensive fire power that WAHS lost with the graduation of Travis Washington. With Pierce, arguably the Warrior’s most prolific offensive player, sharing point guard duties, Coach Maynard will be looking for help making baskets. Hester is the third Warrior to play under Lemcke in the East Coast Fusion AAU program and this experience should prepare him for Jefferson District play.
Cody Davis gives the Warriors a tenacious physical presence and mindset on the defensive end of the court. An all-district running back and safety on the football team, Davis inspired fans and teammates alike with his bone-crushing hits. Davis brings this same physicality to the hardwood and is also a vocal leader. The senior may find himself guarding some of the best offensive players that opponents have to offer. Although Davis is not one of the taller players on Western’s squad, his strength underneath the basket should help with rebounding and setting screens in Maynard’s motion offense.
Davis’s counterpart at the running back position, junior Adam Diehl, also looks to transition from the gridiron to the court. Using the same quickness that gave him success carrying the football, Diehl should share time at the point guard position with Schuler.
Xendon Cross is making his first appearance on the varsity team in his senior year. Cross, who has been a close friend to players on the team, decided to come out to play basketball for the first time since his freshman year. His size and jumping ability will benefit the Warriors. Cross will have to learn the sometimes sophisticated sets that the Warriors run, but with his offensive talents, it may be hard to keep him off the court.
Another underclassman who looks to make a difference is sophomore Ben Turner. Turner does his damage rebounding the ball and scoring in the post. With experience, his playing time should increase. Cody Pillow and Ben Jackson are other post players that Coach Maynard will have in his arsenal. Both athletes add size in the front court. Jackson has been especially impressive in the preseason with his rebounding on the offensive boards.
Garret O’Shea and Will Donnelly round out the Warrior back court. Donnelly, an underclassman, may end up playing junior varsity, where he should see more playing time, but he gives Western a viable option at point guard should either Schuler or Diehl be injured.
Western has experience, athleticism and star power working for them. All of the pieces seem to be in place for a winning season.