Veteran Renegades preparing for changing landscape

Brad Davis/The Register-HeraldWestside's Ethan Blackburn (5) shoots as Wyoming East's Jacob Bishop defends during the New River CTC Invitational Jan. 4, 2020, at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.

Monday was the start of the first high school basketball practices in nearly a year after the 2020 girls state tournament and Class AA boys regionals were canceled after the start of the pandemic. 

For most teams, the season was already over.

Not for Westside.

The Renegades were scheduled to host Shady Spring with a spot in the state tournament on the line last March before the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission made the decision to postpone and ultimately cancel those regional games hours before they were set to tip off.

That's left a sour taste in their mouths. 

"Just last week they were talking about it," head coach Shawn Jenkins said. "It was conditioning, but the talk was there. It's definitely got them excited to get out here and play and practice hard. They want to get back to that point and even go further. I really do think it left a bad taste in their mouth so they're more anxious and ready to try and prepare themselves to do it again."

That approach is something different for Jenkins as his team has grown from a young, inexperienced bunch to one of the more veteran laden groups in the area. 

"It's nice," Jenkins said. "These seniors are going to be big-time players for us. They've gone through all the growing pains and they've learned. Ethan Blackburn and Daniel Reed are two of them that have played and started a lot of games for us. I really think they'll have big years. Just being in conditioning last week, Ethan looks like he's gotten bigger and Daniel's gotten quicker. He might be the quickest player I've ever coached. Even behind them we've got some other kids that played for us last year we expect to see a lot out of. Wesley Browning is a tall, lanky hustle player and he's going to really step up. He's got good chemistry with Ethan and Daniel and even down to Mikey Newsome our other senior. I think I'm going to get some minutes out of younger guys like Shandell (Adkins) and Jaxon (Cogar) and Mikey will give us another big body, so we're going to be physical."

In most cases, bringing back an experienced roster that's played a lot of games together would be an advantage, especially in the accelerated age of Covid-19, but Jenkins doesn't buy into that. With a year off and his approach to not scheduling offseason workouts and practices in windows allowed by the SSAC to keep his players safe, he believes everyone is coming in on an even playing field.

"We've just got to approach this as any other season and try our best," Jenkins said. "We know there's going to be changes and difficulties, but we just have to be prepared as we can and take steps to build off of that. At one time I kind of thought we might have an advantage, but with it being pushed back so many times and us being at the point where we'd normally be getting ready for tournaments but we're just starting, I just kind of think everyone is on a level playing field. There's so much we normally do that we didn't get to do. I thought maybe if it started when it was supposed to, it might have benefitted us, but with it being a year off I just think everyone is going to be facing the same stuff and the same struggles."

Time off and facing the challenges of limited practice time aren't the only unknowns for Jenkins, or any other teams around the state. This is the first year the new four-class system goes into effect with sections and regions being rewritten. Westside, which played in a region with Oak Hill, Wyoming East, Bluefield and others in the past, now plays in a class that features none of them. While there will be familiar faces such as Mingo Central, Independence and Shady Spring, the group of Midland Trail, Nicholas County, Sissonville and Herbert Hoover pose new challenges on the opposite side of the region. 

"It's not too much different for us," Jenkins said. "We've scheduled teams like Mingo each year so we're familiar with them, but teams like Sissonville and Herbert Hoover, who I know nothing about. We've never played those teams. That will be kind of interesting and it's why I wanted to play both of them at least once. They kind of did me a favor this year and agreed to come to Westside and we'll return the favor next year. I'm really excited to see what they have, but it's new for everyone and we'll have to see how it goes."

Email: tjackson@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @TjackRH

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