BOONE — The Watauga boys’ basketball team has gone through several changes since the end of the 2018-19 season.
For starters, longtime coach Rob Sanders resigned and was replaced by Laura Barry, who coaches the boys’ and girls’ programs. Then Watauga graduated starters Zach West, Jackson Greene and Ethan Rothrock, but finding replacements for graduated players in part of having a sports program.
The Pioneers will also be without leading scorer from last season, Blane St. Clair, who transferred out of Watauga. He averaged 20.1 points per game last season.
The Pioneers, who finished 13-13 overall last season, 7-7 in the Northwestern Conference, are still waiting for two football players — Anderson Castle and Jaiden Bond — who are key components of the Watauga football and basketball teams.
Once Castle comes back, he brings his 8.4 points per game with him. Bond also averaged 7.4 points per game last season, so Barry must depend on some players to pick up the scoring slack until Castle and Bond return.
“We want them to go as far as they can,” Barry said of the football team. “We recognize that we’re going to be playing games without them. We have guys who have been playing basketball pretty much since they got back to school in September.”
One of those players is shooting guard Jake Sears. A senior, Sears averaged 5.2 points per game and made 41-of-123 3-point shots last season.
Barry said Sears has worked on his offense since the end of last season.
“He worked really hard this offseason,” Barry said. “He shot about 7,000 shots since the beginning of summer. He wants to play a lot. He’s working on his defense.”
Barry is also looking at getting balanced scoring from senior Andrew Freeman, senior Luke Robbins junior Ben Ricker and sophomore Jonah Martin.
Ricker is listed as the tallest Pioneer at 6-foot-5. Watauga has three players, Jackson Earnhardt, Tyler Ward and James Privette, who are listed as 6-3 and Ben Hale is 6-2. Another forward, Martin, also gives the Pioneers some size.
Barry realizes that the Pioneers do not have a towering lineup, but the Pioneers can match up with opponents at small forward and at the guard positions.
“Jonah Martin, he’ll be good for us and Tyler Ward has moved up from JV,” Barry said. “He’s a big body and has pretty good size around the rim. They play a pretty different style of game, but I think they are interchangeable for us inside.”
Barry is hoping some upper classmen can take on a bigger role in scoring and rebounding.
“We’re not small, but we’re not big,” Barry added. “Against an average team, it won’t be a big adjustment. Against any big team, or against any team that is big inside, we’ll have to play possibly a different type of way. Our guys are doing well about playing physical, taking something away defensively but realizing we can’t take it all away. We’re trying to get better by playing with our feet and rotating on help when we need to.”
That also includes using positioning to get rebounds against a taller team.
“From a rebounding standpoint, we want to be five guys on the glass defensively and grab that, grab that, grab that,” Barry said. “A lot of that is emphasizing it, practicing it, but it’s got to be important to each guy.”
The Watauga backcourt, including Holden Perry and Isaac Greer, can add depth to the Pioneers’ lineup.
“Jackson Earnhardt, who is a junior, is looking a lot bigger and better than last year.” Barry said. “Andrew Freeman and Luke Robbins are both seniors and they really earned a bigger role than last year. Ben Ricker offers more size. He’s a junior who is lanky and long.”
The Pioneers have adjusted their schedule at the start of the season to accommodate football. Watauga did not play Avery on Nov. 22 since both teams have players playing in the state football playoffs. The game was scheduled to be a home game, but was postponed.
Watauga also has a game scheduled with Avery on Dec. 5 that was originally scheduled to be played in Boone, but that has been moved to Avery.
Watauga will also play its home game scheduled for Nov. 26 against Mountain Heritage on Nov. 29 in Boone.
That leaves Watauga’s season to begin Dec. 3 at home against Gastonia Ashbrook. After playing at Avery on Dec. 5, Watauga follows with a home game against Ashe County on Dec. 6.
Watauga also faces a NWC schedule that begins at home Dec. 19 against South Caldwell.