Both Owen High varsity basketball teams enjoyed strong regular seasons and qualified to host a home game in the opening round of the Western Highlands Conference tournament. The boys’ team — the Warhorses — finished second in the conference after winning a coin toss against Mountain Heritage, and the girls’s team — the Warlassies — finished third with an 8-4 conference record.
Both teams are loaded with young talent and appear poised to compete for years to come. The Black Mountain News caught up with freshman center Chesney Gardner of the Warlassies and sophomore point guard Ben Craig of the Warhorses to talk more about the special season enjoyed by each team and how that translates into postseason basketball.
Black Mountain News: Your team exceeded Coach Robinson’s expectations this regular season with a second-place finish in the conference. What do you think has been behind the success of this young team?
Ben Craig: Our commitment to practicing and getting better each day we are in the gym is a big reason for our success. We want to do it for each other.
BMN: After winning 14 games during the regular season, Owen qualified to host an opening round Western Highlands Conference game. How does it feel to have the opportunity to play a postseason game in front of the home crowd?
Craig: Playing at home gives us a certain comfort and confidence. It’s been really fun to watch our home crowd grow as wins increase.
BMN: As a sophomore you led the team in assists-per-game, finished second on the team in points-per-game and third in rebounds-per-game. What has been the key to your success this year?
Craig: I worked really hard this summer with Warren Wilson College head coach Anthony Barringer. However, I couldn’t have success without my teammates pushing me to get better at practice.
BMN: Coach Robinson has repeatedly spoken about the chemistry of this team and how the environment is much like a family. Why do you think that this group of players have such a special relationship?
Craig: We genuinely like each other and are all friends. We all share a common goal, which is to win.
BMN: This team has been impressive in many ways throughout the season. What have you been most impressed by from your team?
Craig: I like how we always play hard. We come out hungry for wins and give our all to be successful.
BMN: You finished fifth in WNC with 11.1 rebounds-per-game and eighth in the region in point-per-game with 15.6. What was the key to your individual success on the court as a freshman?
Gardner: Playing with poise, something Coach Raines reminds me to do every practice. Also, to go out on the court and play as hard as I can.
BMN: Coach Raines talks a lot about this team’s need to play with confidence and a belief that they can beat any team in the conference. How confident is this team going into the postseason after winning 16 regular season games?
Gardner: We are extremely confident. We know that if we all play together and play hard we can win the conference tournament and that would be a great accomplishment.
BMN: This team gets a lot of contributions from a lot of players, especially on the defensive side of the ball. How fun is it playing on a team where everyone is involved and invested?
Gardner: It’s great! I love the fact that everyone on the court and on the bench stays pumped throughout the whole game. It really keeps our attitude up.
BMN: There is a lot of wear and tear that results from playing down low. Has it been difficult to adjust to the more physical style of play in high school basketball?
Gardner: Well, I have always been a physical player and I have played travel ball for the past two years. That has made me a lot stronger, so adjusting to high school hasn’t been that difficult.
BMN: What does this team need to do to be successful in the postseason?
Gardner: I think this teem needs to play together and work hard. Simply doing these things could take us far into the postseason.