By Dave Morrison
CLEAR FORK – Folks inside the Westside basketball program knew the first three games would be a tough start. Actually, anyone could look at the schedule and know it would be hard out of the gate. There was no easing into the season as the Renegades have faced the toughest slate in the state to open the season.
There was No. 8 Shady Spring and then No. 1 Chapmanville . And and comes No.3 Oak Hill Friday night at the Lilly Center in Oak Hill.
With a young, inexperienced squad, it’s not the recipe for success, if success is defined by wins.
It’s been especially tough for Hunter Walters, the one returnee from the top eight rotation on last season’s 20-4 squad that went to the state tournament.
First was a 85-43 season-opening loss to Shady Spring.
Then there was the 92-53 loss to defending Class AA state champion Chapmanville.
Now comes section rival Oak Hill, the team Westside dueled with for the region’s top seed last season. Oak Hull won the top seed, Westside won the Section 1 crown.
It has been frustrating for Walters, who has 14 points against Shady Spring and a 20 point effort against Chapmanville.
“It’s frustrating sometimes but I’ve just got to keep pushing,” Walters said. “It’s hard for me right now because it’s an 0-2 start and I’m used to winning. I’m used to being on the other side of that and that’s hurting me right now. But we will be OK. We are going to come out of it.”
Where he was a role player last season, a defensive stopper on a senior-laden team, Walters is now a leader on a team of fresh faces. He knows it is incumbent on him to be a leader.
“I have to step up and play hard every night and get my guys going,” Walters said. “They’re sophomores, they’ve never done this before, it’s different. It’s a different level.”
Hence the growing pains against an unforgiving schedule.
“The effort was there, but we still lost by 39,” Walters said. “That’s the one thing we did’t have against Shady but it was there tonight. That’s a good sign.
Head coach Shawn Jenkins appreciates the effort of his senior leader.
Especially against a team like Chapmanville, where it was clear that Walters wasn’t treading new ground.
“He played really well tonight,” Jenkins said. “Sometimes he does get caught up in the moment and he will take a bad shot here and there. But that is just him trying to make something happen for a younger team that we have. Sometimes he needs to learn to get everyone involved. But he played extremely well tonight. I was pleased with him.”
Walters believes the team will come out of the tough opening slate better for the experience, and the schedule will be a bit more forgiving.
“We just played the No. 1 team in the state in Chapmanville, which is obviously a great team, we played the No. 8 team in Shady Spring, another great team, and now we have No. 3 Oak Hill, so we are starting the season with tough games off the bat,” Walters said. “But I think we can turn it around. These young guys are good. They’re good. And the teams we are playing are no joke. It’s going to help these guys. They’re playing the best of the best. It’s the only way to get better.
It’s up to the senior leader to help this team traverse the tough terrain of a schedule full of some of the best Class AA teams in the state.
His coach said he is uniquely qualified for the job.
“He’s not going to back down,” Jenkins said. “That’s not in him.”
Oak Hill (2-0) enters Friday’s game coming off lopsided wins over PikeView and Riverside. The Red Devils beat the Class AAA Warriors 77-58 without all-stater Andrew Work (ankle).