The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

High School Sports

April 6, 2014

Westside’s Cook named top area coach

Renegades reached Class AA semifinals, concluded at 20-7

BECKLEY — February was coming to a close, and March Madness was ready to begin.

Westside High School’s boys’ basketball team was coming off its second loss of the season to Oak Hill, its fourth defeat in seven games, and feeling frustrated. To make matters worse, senior Levi Lambert, who was averaging double-figures in scoring, decided to leave the team after that regular season finale, taking with him a big chunk of the Renegades’ offensive production.

Head coach Nick Cook was staring disaster in the face.

The next five games are what Westside fans will always remember about the 2013-14 season and were enough to earn Cook the honors as The Register-Herald Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.

After a week off following the loss to the Red Devils, Westside began postseason play with a 92-75 thumping of a solid Liberty team in the sectional semifinals. Then, in front of a packed house at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, the Renegades avenged two regular season losses to rival Wyoming East by knocking off the Warriors 83-75 to claim the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 title.

An upset-minded PikeView team couldn’t take the Renegades out in the Region 3 co-final, and Westside punched its ticket to Charleston with a 57-47 win.

It wasn’t finished yet.

Up first in the Class AA quarterfinals was Bridgeport, the same team that ended Westside’s season the year before. This time, the Renegades claimed a 65-58 win — scortching the nets early and then holding off an Indians comeback to move into the semifinals.

The season came to an end with a semifinal loss to Robert C. Byrd, but Westside still made a statement, taking the same team that beat the Renegades 76-54 on Feb. 14 into overtime before falling short.

“Words can’t describe how proud I was of this team,” said Cook, who beat out runner-up Joe McCoy of Valley as well as Dan Burd (Greater Beckley), Brian Phipps (Nicholas County) and Wes Brown (Oak Hill) to win the award in a vote of The Register-Herald’s five-man sports staff. “We didn’t cut down the nets like we wanted to, but I think we won over a lot of people with the way we played in Charleston.”

Cook, whose team finished 20-7, was quick to give the credit to his players. Senior Corey Bowles was a first-team all-stater after averaging 18 points per game, while junior big man Justin Cogar was a second-team pick, averaging 16 points. Point guard Will Fox, a junior, put on as good a show as anybody at the state tournament and ended up a third-team selection after scoring 12 points per game.

“Corey played all season with a torn miniscus and was a first-team all-stater,” said Cook. “That’s pretty impressive. Justin Cogar was a force inside, and Will Fox is just a great player.”

But it was also the unsung heros that made a big difference.

“Jordan Browning really stepped up and became a senior leader when we were going through a rough time, and Matt Harless (who suffered a knee injury during football season and missed almost the entire year) stayed on the sidelines and cheered as hard as he could, knowing he wasn’t going to play,”  said Cook. “We just had great kids, and when I look back that’s what I’ll remember.”

Cook also believes his mad scientist approach to scheduling helped his team come together at the right time. The Renegades took on anybody and everybody during the regular season — Greenbrier East, Wyoming East, Tug Valley, Oak Hill, Bluefield, Greater Beckley, Robert C. Byrd, Fairmont Senior, Logan and Woodrow Wilson, just to name a few — and Cook said the lessons learned from those games made his team better.

“People might say I’m crazy, but it’s something I believe in,” said Cook. “I just wanted to get them ready for every possible situation — player, team, style — they could face. It paid off in the end. I was second-guessing it at a couple points, but I really do think it made us better.”

Cook hopes the last couple of seasons have also set the tone for the future of Westside basketball.

“I’ll be forever grateful to these kids, because they worked their butts off to get the culture changed,” he said. “It started turning about four years ago, and each year they stepped it up a notch.”

With Fox, Cogar, Justin Kenneda (10 ppg), Larry Cook and other key members back next winter, Cook hopes the future will be bright. And the schedule, he said, won’t change.

“I’ll just go ahead and tell you it’s not going to get any easier,” said Cook, who wouldn’t have it any other way.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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