In Dec. 3 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Sports Editor
Laker head coach Willie Feldhaus saw his team finish last season with a record of 23-7, which was capped off by a stunning 65-57 defeat of favored Warren Central in 4th region tournament play before falling to Franklin-Simpson.
As district runner-ups a season ago, the Lakers bid farewell to seniors Bryon Ellis, a 1,000 point scorer, and Bryce Bailey giving the Lakers two leadership voids that Feldhaus, whose entering his 5th season as head coach, will have to fill this season.
“Our two seniors we had provided us with the leadership we needed,” he said. “That will be a key for us this year. Who is going to take on that role to see that everyone continues to work hard?”
With that being said, Feldhaus lauded the current crop of Laker seniors that include Bryson McFall, Zach Carney, Robbie Bell, Adam Justice, Lucas Justice, Kyle Burchett and Jordan Best.
“I couldn't have asked for anything better, quite honestly,” the Laker coach said. “You've got a little bit of everything in there personality-wise, but for the most part they are a quiet group of kids.”
He said working hard had never been an issue for this group of guys.
“I hate to talk about expectations going into a year or put down a number as far as how many games we'll win or lose,” he said. “I expect to get to the point where we've been the last few seasons at the end of the year where we feel like we can compete with anyone in our region.”
Feldhaus said he feels that the Laker basketball program is at a point now where they enter each game, no matter the opponent, feeling like they can compete and win.
“I think our expectations are as high as they've been in the five years I've been here,” he said. “Comparatively speaking, I think we're as good as we've been since I've been here ... but you've got to go out on the floor and meet those expectations.”
Besides the seven seniors, Feldhaus will also rely on the play of juniors Martin Cross, Taylor Hutchison, Logan Smith and Cody Womack, sophomores Blake Aaron and Hunter Best and freshman Tyler Robertson, who played some varsity ball last season.
“I know our kids have those exact same expectations,” Feldhaus said. “That makes it fun. It's not fun going into games feeling like you don't have a chance to win.”
But Feldhaus warned that every team on the schedule had the ability to beat his and that they must continue to improve.
“We have to play well,” he said. “We can't physically overpower anyone and win basketball games.”
While his team has a lot of varsity experience, four returning players enter their third year on the high level, there are still some questions to be answered.
“I think people are going to see a lot of what they saw last year, obviously,” Feldhaus said. “Six of our top seven players from last season are returning.”
Feldhaus said that pre-season practice had been going well thus far and intensified when the Laker football players joined the team in early November.
“Our strength right now is our balance,” Feldhaus said. “I don't think there is any one person you can key on offensively.”
He said he's got four or five guys capable of putting up double figures on a nightly basis and the same for rebounding the ball.
“The thing I'm most concerned about is finding a defensive stopper,” Feldhaus said. He said Ellis played that role last season, defending the opposition's best player game in and game out.
“Somebody is going to have to step up,” he said. “I don't know who that is going to be but we need someone to take on that role and take pride in it.”
Asked if Feldhaus was still enjoying the job, he had no reservations.
“I love Russell County,” he said. “Everyone here has been great to me and my family and my girls love it here. I plan on being here for a while,” Feldhaus said.