Warlassies rebuilding program behind committed head coach

David Thompson
Black Mountain News

SWANNANOA - There's an inside joke only heard inside the girls basketball office at Owen High School.

Although three coaches share the small space, the only name plate taped to the door belongs to longtime assistant Chasity Simpson.

"I'll get one eventually," first year head coach Anderson Bynum said. "But that's the running joke around here; you've got to stay at least one year before you start getting things."

Bynum, who was hired last summer, is the fourth coach in as many years for a Warlassies team trying to rebuild after winning five games last season.

Tim Raines, who led the Warlassies for more than two decades, retired after the 2016-17 season. He was replaced by Aaron Fernandez, who guided the program to its first 20-win season in over a decade. Fernandez left the job to pursue a college coaching opportunity, and Rusty Smith took over last year before moving out of state before the 2019-20 school year began.

"It's a process," Bynum said. "Right now we're all getting to know each other. I'm new to this area, so my first semester here was trying to get familiar with the players and the families. We're trying to build trust so we can grow together."

Owen finished the nonconference season on Jan. 2 with a 75-32 loss to North Buncombe but has already won four games heading into Western Highlands Conference play. 

Owen has eight players on the varsity team, including three seniors: Miriam King, Alyssa Watson and Mallory Penland. The Warlassies have also found a dependable scorer in freshman Emma Larios. 

Against the Black Hawks, the Warlassies (4-6) moved up their entire 10 player junior varsity team to help fill a varsity roster riddled with injuries. That they have a junior varsity team at all has been a tangible accomplishment for Bynum in his first year.

"There was not a JV program last year, and we were dead set on making that happen," Bynum said. "I'm proud that we have a dedicated group of girls, that may not have played before, but are really committed and enjoying their experience."

Bynum, a former men's basketball coach at Clinton College in Rock Hill, S.C South Carolina, said he plans to stay at Owen for the long run. His daughter will attend Owen as a freshman next year and plans to play basketball.

Owen opens conference play on Jan. 7 at home against Mitchell (6-2).

"I think our group can compete with anyone, even (defending state champion) Mountain Heritage in our league," he said. "But we have to figure out how to be consistent. It will take some time, but we are going to build something here."