By Jerry Reid
With a record of 11-1 entering a home game against Powhatan on January 5, the Warriors are taking no prisoners. Tactically sound and strategically grounded, they are almost military in their precision.
Most of that karma can be chalked up to experience; knowing each other from playing together as kids, then prowling the Jefferson District basketball courts seeking wins for the last four years. Seniors lead this team, but the rest of the players are hot on their heels for playing time.
Averaging 65.8 points per game and a shut-down defense of 44.3 points allowed, the scoring has been spread across multiple players. There is no big knockout scorer, but the starters get the job done, and when they come off the court, their replacements step in, keeping the momentum.
Junior guard Ryan Ingram averages 12.8 points, sophomore guard Chris McGahren knocks down 7.8 per game, Josh Coleman (another junior guard) is scoring 7.5 per game. Other key players such as senior forwards Mike Vale, Carrington Murphy, Jared Carter, Will Cress and junior Austin Cress score in the 5.0-6.6 range per game. Senior guard Nick Yancey kicks in 6.5 ppg. Ingram was named to the Daily Progress/NBC 29 Holiday Basketball Classic All-Tourney team. The Warriors’ only loss to date came at the hands of George Marshall in this round robin. Also making the All-Tourney team was WAHS girls basketball guard, freshman Elisabeth Coffman.
Team shooting is over 50 per cent, and rebound totals average 35.6 per game. Other statistics are also superlative, but there is also a slight hiccup on the free-throw line that is being worked on diligently at practice.
But this is not about those numbers so much as it is about a hotbed of success, a drive to improve, and a need for education that is the key for these players. Vale and Murphy talk of their experiences with this team, and coach Ryan Hughes told of leaving WAHS and going on to college but returning to his roots to teach in Head Coach Darren Maynard’s program. The attraction for attending Western becomes abundantly clear as they speak.
“This has been a great experience. It’s been a lot of work, but I enjoy it a lot. We’ve been playing together so long that it’s comfortable out there,” said Vale. He also recognized that the energy created by so many guys wanting to up their minutes on the floor keeps everybody striving to improve. Vale, who was featured in the October issue of the Gazette, said then that education was his most important goal. After the year he had in football, including catching a team-best 9 touchdown passes out of 32 total receptions to lead the Warriors, and what looks to be a superb basketball season, he is still putting together a body of competitive work that will be pleasing to remember for the rest of his life. What he is working on this final season is the fact that “we sometimes have little lapses in energy and we get ahead and then kind of relax and let the opponent back in a little bit. I don’t even like to give them a sliver of hope that they can come back.”
Chiming in was teammate and fellow forward Murphy, also a senior. Murphy said, “I think part of what’s unique about Western basketball is the fact that our talent level is usually at or equal to the other teams that we play. What really sets our team and our program apart is our ability to take the game and our ability to play hard.” Carrington also feels that the heart and energy of the team, if used every minute of every game, will be a trademark of sorts, meaning that the WAHS style of playing works very well indeed. Carrington hopes to go to U.Va. next fall to study engineering and possibly minor in education. “I will definitely play club sports or intramural because sports has been a really important part of growing up and I want to pass that on either through coaching or teaching.”
Coach Hughes spent the afternoon helping to supervise the very busy practice sessions developed by the WAHS football brain trust. His happiness at being in this gym at this time of his life was obvious. Twenty-five years old and single sounds like a dream, and he is living it to do exactly what he wants.
“This is my third year as a coach, and I played here seven years ago. I went to Randolph-Macon to play college baseball, but I came back to basketball because it’s my true love. The influence that Darren had on my life made me want to come back and be a coach. He runs this like a top-level college program, and you really get to see that you’re not just being a teacher but being involved as a coach and going through all the battles day in and day out.” Hughes believes in the mentoring aspect of his job, and he teaches at Cale Elementary. Coaching is a calling of sorts to him, and he is dedicated to giving back what his coach so generously shared with him.