FHS varsity basketball teams expected to have fulfilling seasons
This sports season at Franklin High School has already been a memorable one, as the varsity volleyball and football teams shattered the record books during their respective fall campaigns. The trend continues this winter. Lindsay Simpson, who holds the record for most points scored at FHS, surpassed the 2,000 career points mark last Tuesday night against Pisgah.
The senior scored the first five of her team’s seven points in just four minutes to reach the milestone.The returning WNCAC player of the year and future WCU Catamount became only the 10th girls basketball player from WNC to break the 2,000 career points threshhold. She has scored 23 points in all three games this season.
Franklin’s varsity basketball teams are gearing up for what should be a rewarding season this winter in the Panther Den. The two teams are well situated to make a run for a WNCAC championship, boasting assets that most teams would love to have. The Panthers look great on paper and the potential is undoubtedly present on each roster. They just have to execute. Thus far, the two teams have done so. The Panthers swept the Brevard Blue Devils in their conference opener last Friday night, kick-starting their seasons in a successful fashion.
Last season in his first year as head coach, Jesse Pinkston made enormous strides in changing the culture of Franklin’s boys basketball program, going 8-6 in WNCAC play and leading the Panthers to their first playoff appearance since 2006. For a young head coach, reinventing a program is always an uphill battle. Just ask Derek Dooley, head football coach at the University of Tennessee.
Before Pinkston arrived at Franklin, the Panthers were struggling not only to win, but to compete, going 6-19 in 2009-2010. Many of those 19 losses were blowouts. “I think we came a long way last year,” said Pinkston. “A lot of that comes from working hard. We put in the hours this summer and gave our kids a lot of opportunities to come work on their game in the gym, and I think they made the most out of those opportunities. Hopefully, that hard work will carry over on the basketball court,” he said.
The Panthers have five players coming from the football team, which should help bring a championship swagger to a program that is capable of winning a lot of games.
One only has to look at the team’s photo to see an obvious strength of the Panthers. The size of Franklin’s frontline is by far the biggest in the WNCAC, and could be one of the biggest in Western North Carolina. Senior Anthony Capaforte is listed at 6’9”, while fellow senior Thomas Evans is 6’3” and solid muscle. Rising junior Jacob Davis, who played an integral role in leading Franklin’s junior varsity team to a 23-0 record last year, is an impressive 6’6” versatile big man.
“They need to touch the ball every possession,” said Franklin head coach Jesse Pinkston. “ I try to preach that message to our team. I think if they can get a lot of touches, it will be good for our offense.”
Franklin is also equipped with some scorers at the wing positions, something Franklin has lacked in the past. Junior Drew Simpson and senior lefty Jeb Brewer can consistently knock down shots from the perimeter. The two combined to score 29 points in Franklin’s 60-50 win at Brevard, a game that saw Franklin score 21 points in the third quarter to put the Blue Devils away. Big man Jacob Davis contributed 10 points in the paint against Brevard as well. Senior Austin Gibson will play a big role on this year’s team too. Gibson has demonstrated his ability to score during several games last season and will bring a lot to the table in terms of leadership and other intangibles.
Senior Jordan Howell will be running Franklin’s offense at the point guard position, backed up by freshman Trey Maslin. Howell moved to the point guard slot after showing Pinkston he could handle the role this past summer. “He does a good job at running our offense and protecting the ball,” said Pinkston. “He is developing really well for us,” he said.
Defensively, Franklin will play a lot of man-to-man, an encouraging change for spectators who enjoy watching players directly challenge one another. “I feel like we have the personnel to match up with most teams man-to-man,” said Pinkston. Franklin’s defense forced 21 Brevard turnovers last Friday night, which certainly backs up Pinkston’s statement.
Franklin dropped their first game of the season at T.C. Roberson last week, 49-56. Although Franklin lost, they shot 44 percent from the field, a good sign considering it was their first game of the season, and accounting for the fact that they were competing against a 4A powerhouse. Furthermore, the contest was T.C. Roberson’s fifth game of the year, so despite all of those factors, Pinkston’s unit managed to give the Rams all they could handle. “We were in the game for four quarters and I was proud of the way we played,” said Pinkston. “A few turnovers on some possessions in the third and fourth quarters hurt us, but we gave them a run for their money.”
Franklin has five seniors on the roster: Jeb Brewer, Anthony Capaforte, Thomas Evans, Austin Gibson, and Jordan Howell. Juniors Landon Allen, James Barber, Jacob Davis, Braden Ledford, Devin Pilkerton, Drew Simpson, and Aaron Spies, along with freshman point guard Trey Maslin, fill out Franklin’s roster.
“I think we have a lot going for us,” said Pinkston when asked about the team’s goals for this season. “Our standards are high and we would like to be able to win a conference championship, and I think we will be in contention for that. If we can control the boards, protect the basketball, and play good defense each and every night, I like our chances.”
Similar to their male counterparts, the FHS girls varsity basketball team has a lot to look forward to this season. Led by senior Lindsay Simpson, who led the state in averaging 30.1 points per game last season, the Lady Panthers are setting the bar high this year, and rightfully so. Their goal is quite simple: Win a conference championship. With four returning starters from a team that won the WNCAC regular season championship a year ago, that goal is definitely attainable. Their 67-49 victory over Brevard last Friday night and their win over a tough Pisgah team last Tuesday evening, 61-56, is evidence of the team’s talent.
Three seniors will direct the Lady Panthers’ 2011-12 campaign; point guard Lindsay Simpson, forward/guard Cheyenne Bennett, and forward Nikki Valley. All three are returning players. “Lindsay is a great player and provides a lot of leadership to this team,” said head coach Scott Hartbarger. “Cheyenne provides a much needed spark off the bench and plays really hard, and Nikki does all the little things really well,” he said.
The team has a lot more depth compared to last year’s team, something that should help the Lady Panthers play at a high level for four quarters. Junior Maggie Stewart, a returning starter, averaged 13.4 points per game last season. The 5’10” center consistently put up double-double numbers in points and rebounds in the 2010-2011 season, and if she can continue producing at that level, the girls will be a tough team to beat.
Haylee Overholt, also a rising junior, returns to the starting line-up at the small forward position. She averaged 2.1 points per game last year, but has obviously improved her game from an offensive standpoint, demonstrated by her 14- point performance against T.C. Roberson last week. Simpson, Stewart and Overholt were all-conference players from last year’s 18-10 team.
Vanessa Agrusa, a freshman, is starting at the shooting guard position for the Lady Panthers. Despite her youth, Agrusa is a versatile guard and can score. She scored seven points at T.C., six points against Brevard, and 14 points in their win against Pisgah.
The supporting cast for the Lady Panthers includes Kaitlin Sanders, Kelsey Apel, Danielle Keener, and Mariah Wallace. The Lady Panthers are looking to remain undefeated in conference play when they take on conference rival Smoky Mountain this Friday night at Smoky Mountain High School.