Keyser basketball eager to start the 2021 season
By Chapin Jewell
KEYSER - Finally, after what quite literally has been a 365-day wait, there are basketballs bouncing again at Keyser High School for the boys and girls donning the Black and Gold.
Well, almost. Technically the balls are bouncing at Keyser Middle School since KHS tryouts were moved there as the gym floor is getting sealed at the high school.
It should have been Monday night but the weather had other plans, so the long-awaited beginning of winters sports practice officially began on Tuesday as a wave of boys and then later a wave of girls participated in Golden Tornado basketball tryouts at Keyser Middle School.
There are COVID-restrictions yes, and everybody was following them. Nonetheless, it looked and sounded like what it was, basketball practice, finally!
The energy was enthusiastic and upbeat, and there is reason for smiles and optimism for both the boys’ and girls’ squads entering the 2021 season. What’s interesting, however, is that in terms of makeup, the two are in polar opposite positions.
For Johnny Haines and the boys, the Black and Gold must replace a graduated senior class of 13 players. It will be largely new faces in 2021 coming up from the ranks, having waited their turn.
For Josh Blowe and the girls, four of five starters and essentially everyone else returns from a team that was very young a season ago. Same faces, just a year older.
According to Haines with the boys, “Obviously losing 13 seniors from last year’s group, we have a lot of kids that need to step up. But, I was overly impressed today, I really was. Their attitude was great, we had a few less numbers, but that was expected with the turnover from last year. But, the kids that are here really want to win and have a good attitude. That’s a recipe for success.”
While it’s been almost a full year since WVSSAC-sanctioned basketball has been played, Haines is confident that many of his players have found time in the gym during the extended off-season.
“That’s one positive thing. Vito Amoruso’s father redid the old Keyser High School gym and so they’ve been going down there on their own and playing and getting some time in. Also, I know that some of our younger kids and freshman were going and playing some AAU ball, so that’s a plus as well,” Haines explained.
“Most of them have been playing basketball, but they’re still out of shape, and we only have a few weeks to get them into shape, and with the weather, we may not want to do it, but we may have to practice some on Sundays to get practices in,” Haines detailed.
As for the girls, Blowe was really happy with the energy and excitement he observed on night number one, “It’s amazing to see everybody here, everybody’s smiling, everybody’s excited, the players, the coaches. We’re all just so excited to be here, it’s been almost a full 365 days since our last official game, so it’s just awesome to be back in the gym.”
As with the boys, Blowe draws comfort in the fact that many of the girls haven’t went a full year without playing basketball, in fact, some have been playing quite a bit.
“We have 20 girls here. I’d say 10 to 12 of them have been playing. We’ve had three or four of those who have been playing regularly for the last six to seven months. Most of them have had a ball in their hands, but we do have a few, five or six, that have not touched the ball literally in a year.”
Last year’s young Lady Tornado squad enjoyed success despite their youth. With nearly everybody back but now a year more mature and experienced, Blowe is optimistic that this year’s team will build and improve on that success.
“I’m expecting growth from last year. Last year had to be one of the youngest varsity teams in Keyser basketball history. We have four starters coming back, which is great, but we’re still pretty young with only one senior right now,” Blowe stated. “We have our work cut out for us, but I feel like we should be better, we’ll be more experienced, more seasoned, and hopefully that will help this year.”
There will be challenges with a new regional alignment and of course COVID-scheduling will no doubt at times cause some problems, but Blowe is optimistic and ready for the task at hand.
“We’re going to play the hand that we’re dealt right now and see how it goes. We’re just happy to be back in the gym,” Blowe stated. “Right now we have a 14-16 game schedule, we know it’s going to be an up and down year and different year and that we have to be ready to adapt on and off the floor.”
Coach Haines and the boys will be challenged with the new regional alignment and COVID-scheduling as well, he too, however, is optimistic for a great season.
“What comes to mind is how the season ended last year. Unfortunately, now Frankfort and us will be in a different section so it might not mean as much, but we have a new opponent in our section, Trinity, and we don’t know much about them,” Haines detailed.
According to Haines, “But, we just have to take care of business here at Keyser with what we can control, and obviously we know a good bit about Berkeley Springs and Hampshire. So, I think if we can win the section anything is possible.”
There you have it, after an almost year wait, basketball has returned to Mineral County. For the Keyser boys and girls, the energy and excitement brought forth on day one of tryouts/practice is a good indicator for a good season ahead.
No doubt the season promises to be crazy with who knows how many twists and turns. Nothing with respect to sports scheduling these days can or will be easy. But, if the smiles on night number one are any indication, everyone at Keyser High School is excited to tackle the challenge. We’ll be checking in with and reporting from Frankfort’s basketball programs as well as the wrestling programs at both Frankfort and Keyser as the week progresses.