Owen Warlassies are charging hard

Fred McCormick

Throughout the regular season the Warlassies have relied on a rotating cast of athletes playing strong perimeter defense and finding ways to score points and win games.

That strategy has led to frustrated opponents and an impressive number of wins for the Owen girls basketball team this year, and with the conference tournament approaching, they may just be getting started.

The Warlassies rode a four-game winning streak into the end of the regular season in which they won 16. A high-pressure approach on defense has allowed the team’s rotating cast of athletic talent to find open lanes to the basket just as head coach Tim Raines anticipated prior to the season.

“From top to bottom this team is as talented as any team in the conference,” Raines said. “I’ve had two teams that have won over 20 games and I really believe that this team is capable of that. And you know, depending on how the conference and state tournaments go, they still may be able to do that.”

And an indication on how Owen will fare in the conference tournament can be found in how they performed in the Western Highlands Conference this season.

The Warlassies finished 8-4 in the conference that is widely known for its intense competitiveness. And in those 12 games the most impressive one may have been a loss.

Conference rival Mountain Heritage had only one loss on the season when the Warlassies took the Cougars into the half tied 28-28. Owen dropped the contest by six, but proved that they could play with anyone after mountain an impressive fourth quarter comeback against one of the top 2A schools in the state.

The Warlassies split the season series with Avery and Madison, and found themselves in the mix for a share of second place going into the final week of conference play (results not available as of press).

In addition to playing good basketball, Raines has also been encouraged by the growth that he has witnessed from his players.

“Team chemistry is a big factor and it always is, especially when you’ve got talent,” he said. “I feel like we’ve gotten better with that all season. They have a whole season under their belt now and playing with that added maturity is a big thing.”

One of the things that maturation has helped the Warlassies do this season is limit turnovers, one of Raines’ keys to success. The team managed to keep turnovers over 20 during their four-game winning streak to close the season and even recorded their lowest single-game total (11) of the year against Madison.

“Cutting down on turnovers has been a big focus all year long,” Raines said. “We went to Mountain Heritage and turned the ball over 30 times and lost by six. If we hadn’t turned it over that many times we could’ve won for sure.”

Raines wants to see his team “make the good pass and not the great pass” and “value every possession.”

One player that makes those offensive possessions so valuable is freshman Chesney Gardner, who leads the Warlassies in points-per-game, rebounds-per-game and blocks-per-game. Her season includes an eye-popping 24-point, 19-rebound performance against Polk in January.

With Gardner’s emergence as an offensive force and consistent scoring from sophomores Dee Graves, Kendal Marlowe and Ashley Valencia, the Warlassies are poised to compete in the conference tournament.

The team’s only two seniors Livie Presley and Taylor Lovci have also played a significant role in the success of the young team. With Lovci providing a reliable three-point threat as a starter and Presley serving as the catalyst for the team’s high-energy and unselfish bench play.

“Livie is just so athletic she does a lot for us,” Raines said. “One of our traditions is to start our seniors on senior night like most people and Livie told me ‘Coach, I don’t want to start, I’m better coming off the bench.’ It is pretty amazing to have a senior more worried about how they can help the team than how many points they score.”

The Warlassies will host an opening round game when the conference tournament, which runs Monday, Feb. 15- Friday, Feb. 19 gets underway. And Raines has a good feeling about his team’s chances.

“Our conference is so closely grouped together that I wouldn’t be shocked if there are a few big surprises in this tournament,” he said. “And I know for sure that we can compete with anyone in the conference.”