When basketball is in your blood, it’s hard to walk away.

Westside girls hoops coach Larry Mathis was on the verge of calling it quits after last year’s disappointing season.

The Renegades had concluded at 9-13, one of the few losing seasons he’d had since joining the coaching ranks in 1971.

He told friends he was probably going to quit.

“It was frustrating. We didn’t see a lot of improvement,” said Mathis, a former basketball standout himself at Oceana High School in the mid-1960s. “And I had been in a car wreck two years ago and I just wasn’t feeling good.”

Wisely, he kept his options open and never turned in his resignation. Over the offseason he lost some weight and began feeling better, both mentally and physically, and decided he had at least another year of coaching in him.

After just over a week of practice for the new season, Mathis is glad he stayed.

“We’ve had some good practices,” he said. “We’ll be better than last year.”

Westside lost just one senior, forward Rachelle Short, plus a few underclassmen who moved or didn’t elect to play this year.

Several quality players are back, including junior guard-forward Nikki Ellis, the team’s leading scorer last year with a 13-point average, junior shooting guard Taylor Lusk, sophomore point guard Sammi Lusk and junior spot starter Markie Gunnels.

Mathis hopes to have from eight to ten players in his rotation.

“We have more depth, size and quickness,” Mathis said. “Last year I could hardly give Sammi and Nicki a sub because we didn’t have anybody who can handle the ball that well.”

The Renegades have six freshmen, including 5-foot-11 Katie Workman, who will see action inside, and 5-9 Brittany Blankenship, who started for Road Branch Elementary’s boys team last year.

“I’m kind of looking forward to this year, seeing how those young girls progress,” Mathis said. “I also think we have some better attitudes.”

He knows what it’s like to dedicate his life to basketball. As a grade schooler he’d sneak in and watch Oceana’s varsity practice. Sometimes coach Paul Greer would let him scrimmage with the junior varsity.

Mathis later coached the Oceana boys for nine years. He resigned, but couldn’t stay away, and coached two county champion junior high teams.

He then took over the Oceana girls for three years, and when the school consolidated into Westside, became the Renegades’ girls coach.

“I wouldn’t have done it this long if it wasn’t in my blood,” Mathis said. “I’m going to enjoy this year.

“Hopefully we’ll be a little more competitive. If the girls believe in themselves and do what we tell them, they’ll win a few games.”

— E-mail:dstillwell@



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