Communication is key for the Warlassies this season

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

A lot of things go on during Owen Warlassies basketball practices as the team prepares to begin the 2017-18 season on the road at North Henderson on Nov. 14. 

The most obvious thing is basketball, which is played in short, competitive contests, intermittently throughout each session. But even more prevalent is talking - and lots of it.

First-year head coach Aaron Fernandez wouldn't have it any other way. 

Owen senior Dee Graves pulls down a rebound at home on Nov. 9 in a scrimmage against Tuscola.

"We play a lot of games in practice and we talk about communication," said Fernandez, who began his coaching career on the sidelines at Tuscola in 2009. "Every day when we come in here we compete, and we communicate, so when we get in game situations those things should be second nature to us."

Fernandez had big shoes to fill in June, when he was hired to take over for Tim Raines, who coached the team for over two decades. However, his well-developed basketball philosophies have helped make the transition in the program a smooth one.

Having a roster flush with talented returning seniors has also been nice.

Senior Ashley Valencia is introduced on Nov. 9 before a scrimmage against Tuscola. She will need to be a vocal leader on the court for the Warlassies this season.

"They know each other well," Fernandez said of the players on his roster. "The core group that I have I've gotten to know really well, but I've had girls trickle in who play other sports that I've only gotten to know in the last few weeks."

The roster has "really good chemistry," Fernandez added, "so I'm trying to fit myself into that chemistry as well."

Keeping a relaxed environment with open, honest communication has allowed Fernandez to mesh with his players, who include senior Ashley Valencia, who has been starting for the Warlassies since her freshman season. 

"I'm really excited (about this season)," Valencia said. "We have a lot of girls coming back this year; we only lost two seniors from last year. We've been together for a long time, and we've all grown up playing travel ball together."

Fernandez calls Valencia a "vocal leader" for the team.

"One of the things I've noticed is that Ashley is so vocal, but in a positive way," he said. "That's a great quality to have in a point guard. She directs traffic, when things go wrong in practice."

That attribute will also be crucial as the team adjusts to the new offensive sets installed by Fernandez. 

"There may be growing pains because I'm allowing players to have more freedom than maybe they're used to," he said. "Last year they ran more of a set offense, and our offense is a motion offense, so players read and react to what the defense gives them. I'm not going to call something every time down the floor. It's up to you to attack."

The offensive approach allows players who are capable of creating their own scoring opportunities to exploit defensive deficiencies. It should allow players like senior Kendal Marlowe and junior Chensey Gardner to be even more productive.

Gardner, who led the Warlassies with more than 15 points per game last season, is energized by her new coach's offensive philosophy. 

Chesney Gardner controls the tip off for the Warlassies in a Nov. 9 scrimmage at home against Tuscola.

"It allows us to be creative, and we know how to play the game, so his approach allows us to use that knowledge," she said. "I think that's really going to help us a lot this year."

The team is the closest it's ever been, according to Gardner, who said that they are rallying around their six seniors.

"It's kind of like our last good ride," she said. "We're going to give it everything we have this year, and play hard for these seniors all the way out."

Valencia would like to see the Warlassies beat Mountain Heritage, who defeated Owen twice last season on their way to an 11-1 record in the Western Highlands Conference and a conference title. 

"Our goal is to beat Mountain Heritage," said Valencia of the conference rival that the Warlassies haven't beaten since 2010. "We've been trying to do that for awhile."

Fernandez would simply like to see his team compete and communicate throughout the season, while enjoying the time they have together on the court.

"The biggest thing I want people to see is that we compete every night no matter what situation we're in," he said. "I also want them to come out and enjoy competing every night, especially for the seniors, since it's their last chance and they'll remember this season for the rest of their lives."