By Ray Hamill — It’s taken them some time to come together, but the Warriors appear to be finding their feet in boys basketball, and they appear to be doing so at a very opportune time.
On Friday night, the Hoopa boys saw a double-digit lead disappear in the final minutes of their Little 4 opener at St. Bernard’s, but the performance was far better than what we’ve previously seen from this team for much of the season, and the Warriors appear to be making substantial strides.
The defending league champs returned just a small group of players from last season, while also adjusting to a new coaching staff and a new system of play.
And it’s taken them some time to adjust.
“It’s not the same team as last year. We’ve got three returners and a whole bunch of new guys,” first-year head coach Craig Cornelson said. “But we’re battle-tested. You could see that on Friday night. We’ve got intensity.”
The Warriors certainly brought the game to the favored Crusaders, and if they continue to play at that level they should be in the hunt for a Little 4 championship and more.
“We are going to be a force in league,” the head coach added. “At this point now, (the players) have the hunger and drive, and they’re learning the new system.
“We had to learn to play together effectively.”
To get there, the Warriors have relied on the leadership of players like John Smith and Tavis Young, each of whom has given the team a steady hand through the early going.
The versatile Smith, a standout athlete who also had a big fall playing quarterback, has been an ever-reliable presence at guard, switching between the one and the two, while Young has led the way at the defensive end, and has evolved into the team’s “shut-down defender,” according to the coach.
Tristin Campbell, who has taken over at point guard, and Joseph McGinnis have each also impressed.
“He’s our sharpshooter,” Cornelson said of McGinnis, who had 13 points at St. Bernard’s, including a huge game-tying 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining.
Smith scored a team-high 15 points at SB.
Senior Aidan Mendes also has impressed through the opening half of the season, giving a small Warriors team a presence inside.
The head coach readily admits that losing on Friday stung a little after the team had led for much of the night, but the performance should give this group plenty of confidence going forward, and will also likely motivate the Hoopa players and fans for the remainder of league play, especially in their rematch with St. Bernard’s.
“We proved something at St. Bernard’s,” Cornelson said. “I think we’re getting it figured out at the right time. It’s going to be good competition in league this year, but we’re ready at the right time.”
As for what has most impressed the new head coach about his players this season?
“Through any trial, any challenge, these guys will not quit,” he said. “I can count on them.”
The 3-14 Warriors are scheduled to host McKinleyville on Wednesday night, weather permitting, and will resume league play at home to South Fork on Friday.