Bucs hope to turn potential into production
By Dave Ongie
University High coach Justin Penley spent the last two seasons reminding everyone how young his team was.
When he looked around the gym on media day prior to this season, however, he saw a group of players that is coming of age.
“I feel like a lot of these guys have gained valuable minutes over the last couple seasons,” Penley said. “We kept saying, ‘we’re young, we’re young’ but now we’re not that young anymore. These guys have grown up a lot, and in a lot of cases, in a trial-by-fire situation. So at some point, it needs to stop being about potential and it’s got to be about production. Hopefully that’s the next step for us.”
Charlie Vargo, Joseph Harless and Jake Hubbard make up the nucleus of the team. Vargo, a 6-foot junior wing, saw a lot of playing time as an underclassman. The same goes for Hubbard, a 6-1 junior post, and Harless, a 6-2 senior post. A.J. Simerly, a 5-11 senior guard, will be expected to make a huge contribution, as will 5-8 sophomore point guard Marshall Fleenor and 6-0 sophomore swingman Mason Broome.
While Penley stopped short of saying the Bucs are ready to contend for a conference title, he certainly expects his team to compete on a consistent basis this season.
“I like this team,” Penley said. “I like the makeup of it. I think we have a lot of the parts you’re looking for as a coach in terms of putting a competitive team on the floor night in and night out.”
Rice hopes to help Lady Bucs create a winning culture
By Dave Ongie
Herman Rice was able to build a winning program at the middle school level. Now he’s hoping to translate that winning culture to the high school level.
Rice is beginning his first season at the helm of University High’s varsity girls basketball team after engineering a dramatic turnaround at the middle-school level.
“The middle school program, when we took it over three years ago, it hadn’t been very successful,” Rice said. “We went undefeated in the conference last year. It took three years, but we built that program up. We hope we can do the same thing here.”
When Rice looks at the players on his team this season, he sees a lot of the key ingredients for success.
“They are great kids,” he said. “They want to win. They want to get better. We’ll give them everything we’ve got to get them there.”
The Lady Bucs will be young this season. Abby Benton, a 5-9 forward, and Sarah Robinson, a 5-6 guard, are the only seniors on the roster. Benton will be counted on to provide leadership and production while Robinson works on making the transition from soccer to basketball. Robinson is a standout on the soccer pitch, but hasn’t played basketball since middle school.
Gracie Crabtree, Callie Newberry, Bekah Rice and Sarah Fisher – all juniors – are expected to join Benton in the starting lineup. Rice said his lineup will be guard-heavy, and he’s hoping to use pressure defense to generate easy offense.
“We’re going to have to be a really strong defensive team,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to pound it inside a lot. Abby does a great job, but our other posts are really young.”