Devils seek competitive edge

-A A +A
By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

 INDEPENDENCE ––Nobody wants to win any more than the players on Grayson County’s girls’ basketball team. Nobody wants to see them win any more than their coach, Tiny Funk.

It’s a process that has to be taken a step at a time.

“We’re learning every day,” said Funk. “Even though we’ve got a lot of juniors, it’s a very inexperienced group. We’re just trying to get to a point to where we’re competitive on a consistent basis.”

Since winning its first and only Mountain Empire District championship in 2008, Grayson County had struggled through 1-23 and 0-17 seasons, and lost its top three scorers off of last year’s club.

“It gets old for them,” said Funk of the team’s recent struggles. “They work just as hard as anybody else, they’re just not seeing the results at the end of the game. It can be disheartening, and it’s my job to not let it get that way. It’s supposed to be fun, and even though we’re working hard we still try to make it fun for them.”

As if the Blue Devils needed something else to hamper their progress, the weather hasn’t been exactly cooperative this year, either. In a system where no school means no practice – and Grayson County has some of the highest weather-related closure totals in the state – the Devils may give up two weeks’ worth of practice sessions to their rivals.

“The weather and where we lose practice time is a really, really big disadvantage to this group,” said Funk, “because where we are, we’ll lose 10 or 12 days of practice. We’re taking baby steps, and we need that time on the basketball floor.”

Grayson County is off to an 0-3 start this season and will need to cut down on the turnovers and have a little more success converting its possessions to turn that number around.

“Basketball is not a game where you can shut people out and bunt a couple of times, steal a base and score once to win,” said Funk. “You’ve got to score points, and we’re just struggling offensively at this time.”

Of course opponents do their best to exploit that.

“Everybody we play is going to go after the jugular,” said Funk. “That has been our undoing. We had a chance to win one of our three games and we kicked the opportunity away with turnovers.”

Catherine Vaughan and Becca Johnson are the only two seniors on the 11-player roster. The 5-foot-10 Johnson is a good presence inside, and Vaughan has developed into a leadership role.

“In the three games we’ve had she’s close to leading us in rebounds and she always gets the toughest assignment on defense, even if it’s a guard, because she does a very good job defense,” Funk said. “She’s gotten better offensively, she just needs to see the ball go through the hole more.”

Freshman Sarah Eller, a 5-6 wing, leads the team in scoring thus far and has a nice mid-range jumper, which could extend beyond the 3-point arc.

“As a freshman she’s been asked to do more than she probably feels she’s able to do,” Funk said. “She has a chance to be a very good basketball player, but she is young. She gets better at something every time we practice and every time we play.”

Taylor Hale is the one returning starter, but she’s just coming back from a shoulder injury, leaving the point guard duties to Abingdon transfer Brittany Vandyke.

Also in the post is Lucy Phipps, a 5-9 junior with a nice inside touch, and Funk had high praise for sophomore Erin Barrett.

“I keep pushing and prodding her to go ahead and be the best player and not just fit in,” he said. “But in fairness to her, I ask her to play wing and post, so she’s got a lot to learn, but that should help her and us over the next two years.”

Lakyn Parks, Helena Unhoch, Natasha Moore and Haley Lawrence should all see plenty of action for a team that has gone 10-11 deep in each of its first three games.

Grayson’s latest outing was its toughest of the year, falling behind 40-2 at Alleghany, N.C. But the Blue Devils didn’t pack it in at the half.

“It may not sound like a whole lot, but they scored 15 points and played very competitive in the second half,” Funk said. “They didn’t quit, and that’s a tribute to them, because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to come out of the locker room.

“They do work hard. We can’t measure success in wins and losses, we just want to get in position to win a game, and if the ball bounces right we can steal one from somebody.”