Basketball season arrives in full force Tuesday in Polk County.
All of the county’s high school and middle school teams will open their 2014-15 schedules at home on Tuesday, with Polk County High hosting Brevard and Polk County Middle hosting Macon Middle. Four games of high school action begins at 4 p.m. with junior varsity girls play while the middle school doubleheader tips off at 4:30 p.m.
The full slate of games will also mark the debut of five new head coaches. At Polk County High, Brandy Alm takes over the varsity girls program, with Jon Hampton the new head boys junior varsity coach and Stacey Shields in his first season with the Polk JV girls. At PCMS, John Rochford and Michelle Fagan will make their Polk County Middle School debuts as the boys and girls coaches, respectively.
Alm, last season the head coach at Polk County Middle, plans to bring the same up-tempo, aggressive style to the high school level that her middle school teams displayed.
“We’re going to be aggressive defensively. That’s how I was taught to play,” said Alm, a standout guard at T.C. Roberson and Newberry College. “An aggressive defense can create a lot of offensive opportunities. In structured transition, that’s where you can score a lot of points.”
Polk County will have an experienced backcourt to run that transition game. All-Western Highlands Conference pick Hayley Kropp, the team’s leading scorer last season, returns, as do India Godlock, Savannah Ross and Ashley Kropp, all of whom saw extensive playing time last year. Joining them is senior Kara Overholt, an all-conference pick as a sophomore who returns to the program after a year away, and Jessica Bentley, who will likely see time at guard as well as small forward.
“Kara is going to be a huge contributor,” Alm said.
All-conference returnee Sarah Phipps was among the area leaders in rebounding last season and will anchor the Wolverine frontcourt. Freshman Autumn Owen will join Katelyn Miller to help Phipps inside.
“All of them can get up and down the court,” Alm said. “This is a special team, and I am definitely looking forward to the season.”
Polk County boys varsity coach Josh McEntire also has high expectations for the season, though the story for the Wolverines is a familiar one – with a number of football players on the roster, it could take Polk County a while to settle into a groove.
“I feel like we’re going to get better with every game, and hopefully by the Madison game next week (the conference opener) we’ll be ready to go,” McEntire said.
McEntire enters the season with a roster that, once all of its members are healthy, will offer a number of options.
“I think if the kids work hard and come together, we are capable of competing for a conference championship,” McEntire said. “We’ve got a lot of pieces and a lot of options when we’re healthy.”
Last year’s leading scorer and all-conference selection junior Jamal Wheeler returns to the Polk backcourt and will be joined by junior Daniel Painter. Senior Jason Chupp will see time at guard and small forward, and three freshmen from Polk County Middle’s undefeated 2013-14 team – Dillion Overholt, Holden Owens and Arnie Twitty – will also see action. Overholt is still rounding into shape after football season and Twitty is working to overcome a football injury but should be available soon for play.
It is the Polk County frontcourt that has McEntire enthused about the season. Junior Wes Mullis and senior AJ Searcy return and are joined by junior Jaylin Wilkins, junior Davis Derkach and seniors Marc Longshore and D.J. Twitty.
“Davis is a very versatile player,” McEntire said of the 6-4 Derkach. “He can play the four and five positions and even, if he had to, play some three. Once D.J. Twitty gets healthy, that’s another big body and a guy who can help us inside. It’s a definite change for us in that we haven’t had this many bigs in a few years.
“This is a very versatile team. We can play big, we can play small. I like the fact that we have a number of bigs that we can run at people. You can do more offensively with two bigs.”