Chuck Robinson and the Owen Warhorse varsity basketball team are excited about the upcoming season.
The collective enthusiasm doesn't just come from the fact that the Warhorses were 16-11 a year ago and hosted a pair of home games in the playoffs. Instead, the buzz centers primarily around the team believing this year will be even better.
Robinson's team returns four of the five starters from a season ago, including a trio of players who were named to the Western Highlands Conference all-conference team. Seniors Brian Bartlett and Mathew Brown, along with junior Ben Craig, also earned honorable mentions for The Asheville Citizen-Times All-WNC team too.
"These guys worked hard this off-season," Robinson said. "We're expecting great things from our guys, and we all agree that we'll have to work twice as hard to get better than we were last year."
Playing shooting guard, Bartlett led the team in scoring last year, averaging 15.4 points per game. He grabbed more than eight rebounds per contest, second behind Brown. Bartlett's ability to rebound the ball will likely be showcased more this year, as he moves from the back court to the front court for the Warhorses.
"He'll play some (small forward) and even some (power forward) for us," Robinson said. "I think this will help us spread things out a little."
Craig, who was the team's second-leading scorer a year ago at the point guard position, will move back to shooting guard, what Robinson calls his natural position.
"It will be nice to not have the pressure of handling the ball every possession," said Craig, who led Owen in assists last season with 5.5 per game. "Without everybody watching me come up the court with the ball every play will free me up to get some more open shots."
Better looks at the basket would likely lead to increased point production for Craig, who led the team in three-pointers last season with 44 (36 percent shooting) from beyond the arc.
Owen's shooting and speed on the perimeter will stretch opposing defenses, allowing Brown the opportunity to increase his production at the center position, Robinson said.
"He's going to be more physical this year," Robinson said. "He's one of the ones that worked really hard over the summer, and I expect his numbers to go up."
Senior Noah Roark, who came off the bench for the Warhorses last season, will be the team's starting point guard.
Defensively, Robinson is relying on his team to use its athleticism to play aggressive defense on the perimeter.
"You're going to see some chaos on the floor," Robinson said. "We'll be doing a lot more pressing and a lot more trapping. We'll be pressing right after we score. We should create a lot more turnovers."
Those defensive stops will lead to points if Owen is able to accomplish its goal of minimizing turnovers on the offensive side of the ball, according to Robinson.
"We want to have 10 more possessions than our opponent each game at the minimum," he said. "And out of those 10 we want to score on six of those possessions."
The team's goal is to finish first in the conference, one in which "anyone can beat anyone on any given night," Robinson said.
"Our first goal is to win the conference outright," he said. "And our guys are motivated to do that because this year the conference tournament is right here at Owen.
"I told the guys 'You guys were good last year and everyone knew it, so let's be great this year,'" Robinson said.