By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
The future is so bright that it would be nothing to see Hokes Bluff High girls basketball coach Jason Shields on the sidelines with sunglasses.
The Eagles, ranked No. 9 in Class 4A, should be a player on the state scene for a couple more years, at least.
“We’re excited about the future,” Shields said. “With such a young team, we hope to win a lot of games for a few years.”
Hokes Bluff starts only one senior in guard Carlie Shields and one junior in guard Hannah Evans. In most games, the other three starters are freshmen Tylynn Register, Kendall Johnson and Sydney Ball.
“Chelsea (Machleit) is a senior who starts some games, but we’re trying to build confidence in the younger players, so we’re letting them start most of the time,” Shields said.
With all the youth in the lineup, it is the two upperclassmen who are the consistent scorers – a fact that should help in postseason play.
The Eagles, even with a 5-1 record in area play, will have to travel to Jacksonville after splitting with the Golden Eagles and losing a coin toss to break the tie. Cherokee County is Hokes Bluff’s first opponent in next week’s Area 11 tournament
“There’s pressure (in the playoffs) no matter where you play,” Shields said. “It would be nice to host but you have to get used to playing on the road, so it’s not really any difference.”
The Hokes Bluff boys have also lived up to their early billing so far, winning a school-record 22 games against only five losses.
The Eagles opened the season ranked No. 10 in the state and have climbed all the way to No. 4.
“The guys have really worked hard to improve and seem to be peaking at the right time,” said Hokes Bluff coach Greg Watkins. “At least, I hope they’re peaking right now because the playoffs are about to start.”
Area tournaments begin Feb. 7.
Watkins is concerned because this week’s play was snowed out but concedes that every team is in the same boat, so hopefully the inactivity won’t hurt.
The Eagles, led by senior and Purdue University signee center Isaac Haas, play Jacksonville first in the Area 11 tournament, which will be held at Hokes Bluff.
“The rest of the team doesn’t play like they have a big guy in the middle,” Watkins said. “They play their hearts out and battle for every rebound. It’s definitely not a one-man show.”