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Etowah's Jaxon Etter shoots during last year's playoff game against Wheeler. Etter, the reigning Region 4AAAAAAA Play of the Year is one of the few star players returning this year in Cherokee County. Staff -Alex Resnak
WOODSTOCK -- Basketball season gets underway this week, and Cherokee County boys teams will be looking to build off a banner season last year.
Etowah led the charge once again with its second straight Region 4AAAAAAA title and appearance in the second round of the state playoffs.
The Eagles will have to keep the streak alive despite losing four starter to graduation in Adrian Cohen, Julian Baldwin, Nick Nagy and Carter Ingersol, but coach Jason Dasinger said he does not expect much of a drop-off.
“Even before I got here, they did a great job of establishing a culture of excellence,” he said. “We lost a lot of length last year, but I would say we’re a pretty veteran team. We’re just a little inexperienced. I don’t expect much of a drop-off. I think we’ll still be at the same level, because of the culture they’ve established here.”
Reigning region Player of the Year Jaxon Etter is back to lead Etowah, while Matt Lane, Alexander Ford and Bryce Dotson are expected to take on increased roles.
Dasinger said the changes will affect the way his team plays offense, but he still expects his team’s strengths to be on the defensive side.
“I don’t not pay attention to details,” he said. “In practice, if I see something, we’ll stop and correct that. We want to make it a habit. Having a player like Jaxon playing defense at a high level, the guys see you have to do that to get on the floor with us.”
Woodstock joined Etowah in the second round last season after picking up its first playoff win in program history, but like the Eagles, the Wolverines will need to replace its top offensive producers after losing Noah Frith and Dylin Hardeman to graduation.
Point guard Chris Carroll is back to run the offense, along with Bryce Clark and Jaden Rakestraw to ease the transition to more of an inside-out offense under new coach Josh Pierce.
“My main thing is discipline on and off the court,” Pierce said. “We’re young, but we have a lot of guys who are going to play hard. They give a lot of effort, and that’s one thing I feel like can build a culture and help us win games.”
With the region’s top teams losing key players, it could be a year for Cherokee to make a run in Region 4AAAAAAA.
Taihland Owens is back after an all-region freshman campaign. He will be joined by Zach Vickers inside, Matt Snyder, Elijah Mayberry and Jonathan Sweeney as the Warriors look to improve with a roster that had five underclassmen in their top seven a season ago.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in just a year,” coach Roger Kvam said. “We had three freshmen out there a lot last year who had no idea what varsity basketball was like. It’s a big jump to go from eighth grade to varsity. You skip some steps there, but with that experience now, I think we’re going to see a lot of improvement, especially on defense.”
In Region 6AAAAAA, Creekview, the county’s lone Class AAAAAA playoff representative, will be looking to build off a strong regular season, but they will have to do so without leading scorer K.J. Jenkins.
Coach Casey Gramling said his team should be in good hands, though, as Timmy Davis steps into the starting point guard role.
“I think we have a kid who is going to explode onto the scene this year,” Gramling said. “He’s a special player. He’s one of the best guards I’ve had the privilege to coach. He’s not just a scorer. He’s a five-tool player.”
Davis will not have to do it alone, though.
A strong group of seniors, including Paxton Nayman, Griffin Potts, Grant Potts, Spencer McDonald and Grayson Baker are also back to build off the best season in school history.
“It’s a group that holds each other accountable,” Gramling said. “They work hard. They’re a bunch of hard-nosed kids who have won at everything they do. They played a huge role last year in changing our culture, and they;re all coming back to maintain that.”
Sequoyah is expected to make more of a push in the third year of coach Allen Carden’s rebuilding project.
The Chiefs lack a true big man in the middle, but an up-tempo, aggressive style should take advantage of a deep roster that includes, Jackson Greco, Donovan Shipp and Myles McGee, who all averaged double-figures last season.
“Three years ago, we were not only learning to walk, but we were just trying to get off the floor,” Carden said. “Last year, we jogged a little bit. We started 1-9 and ended up 13-14. We did make some strides. You can’t always measure it with wins and losses, but I feel like the reclamation project at Sequoyah is right on point.”
River Ridge will be looking to improve this season despite losing four of its top five scorers from last year.
Will Apple, Amonte Scott and Kobe Braddock are set to lead the Knights this year, as an influx of year-round basketball players move into the program.
“I think that definitely helps,” coach Ben Farist said. “I’m all for two-sport athletes, but it’s nice to see guys who are always focused on basketball. They’ve been playing all year, so I think we’ll be able to compete more in this tough region.”
Source - The Cherokee Ledger News, Alex Resnak
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