By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — HAILEYVILLE — Even before Haileyville opens its basketball season at home Thursday against Indianola, signs look promising for this year’s Warriors and Lady Warriors. Numbers attending preseason workouts have gone up for both teams, according to second-year coach Jody Hull, as the Warriors have had as many as 17, the Lady Warriors as many as 12.
Hull said a core group of Haileyville basketball players have been in the gym since school began, and it’s paid off in preseason scrimmages.
“It seems like the second year every school I’ve been at, we’ve gotten a lot better,” Hull said Friday.
The 2012-13 Warriors won 10 games and lost the consolation final of the 2013 Pitt 8 tournament. With three starters from last year back, Hull said he’s looking for 15-20 wins and a top-four finish at the tournament.
The Warriors are particularly experienced at forward. Jason Mayo, a starter last year, will be the team’s starting power forward, but Hull said Mayo can play any position on the court.
“He’s just fundamentally sound,” Hull said of Mayo. “Blocks out, can score, can dribble. ... Good kid.”
Bryer Stites will be the Warriors’ starting center, as he was last year. A 6-foot-9 junior, Stites has slimmed down from 330 to 310 pounds, according to Hull, which should make moving up and down the court easier.
“Last year, people would put two or three guys on him because we had nobody who could shoot,” Hull said of Stites. “This year, our 1, 2 and 3 (guards) can shoot the 3s, and if they play off him, if they play off Bryer, my 4 (Mayo) can score at the high post all day long.”
Freshman Seth Davidson started on Haileyville’s eighth grade team last season. Hull said Davidson is a strong shooter able to drive inside, making him an ideal small forward.
Senior James Hart, meanwhile, will be the team’s starting shooting guard. Hull said Hart was hampered by an ankle injury much of last season but is now back at full strength.
“He’s a lot better player now,” Hull said of Hart. “Able to dribble the ball, he can shoot the 3 (pointer).”
Senior point guard Tristan Tiger completes the Warriors’ starting five. Though he grew up in Hartshorne, Tiger spent his last few seasons in Las Vegas before moving to Haileyville.
“He is a very good point guard on dribbling, passing the ball,” Hull said of Tiger. “Last year, we didn’t have a point that could score.”
Hull said potential contributors off the bench include sophomores Billy Morgan, Cody Hart and Jordan Smith. Though the Warriors will do some half-court trapping this season, Hull said they’ll try to play man-to-man defense about 80 percent of the time.
“Last year, we couldn’t play a lick of man,” Hull said.
“We’re going to press, we’re going to run a lot of man-to-man, we’re going to get after people.”
While the Warriors have plenty of size up front in Mayo and Stites, the Lady Warriors will start 5-foot-5 freshman Kiara Covey at center until Joy Picotte returns from an ankle injury. Returning starter Audri Gleason will be the girls’ starting power forward, but that lack of size means the Lady Warriors will rely on their guards.
“It will be more outside-shooting, more driving to the hole and drawing fouls,” Hull said of the Lady Warriors.
“We’re trying to do free throws at lunchtime and before school, but that’s one thing where we need to improve on a lot.”
Returning starter Tori Cole, a junior, will lead the Lady Warriors at shooting guard. Hull called Cole the “team everything,” including point guard if necessary.
But for now Hull will go with freshman Hannah Manning at point guard, which should free up Cole for easier shots.
“Brings the ball up against the press, shoots the 3, plays the best defense,” Hull said of Cole. But with Manning, Hull said, “we’re a lot more athletic at point guard, a lot more sound than we were a year ago.”
The starting 3-guard spot remains an open competition for the Lady Warriors, and Hull said freshman Heaven Lawrence and Ashton Sockey are the leading candidates for the job. Whichever doesn’t start will instead have to contribute off the bench, as will freshman Kensey Davidson.
Hull said that like Cole, Davidson can play any position. The Lady Warriors, a much younger squad than the Warriors, will rely on a half-court zone defenses, pressing when they can.
“If we can move from the boys winning 10 up to between 15-20, and the girls winning two up to between 6-10, next year, the girls I’m expecting 12 or more,” Hull said.
After its season-opener against Indianola, Haileyville won’t play again until the Eastern Oklahoma State College Tournament from Dec. 2-7 in Wilburton. Haileyville then returns home Dec. 9 to play Panola.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.