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The search for a new girls basketball coach is underway at Owen High School after the departure of Aaron Fernandez.

The first-year head coach won 20 games with the Warlassies in the 2017-18 season, earning him a position on the staff of the women’s team at Mars Hill University.

Fernandez described the decision as “bittersweet.”

“This community is great,” he said. “I really feel like the Swannanoa Valley will always be special to me.”

Fernandez began his coaching career at Tuscola High School in Haywood County, where he spent eight years with the boy’s program. He was hired to fill the vacancy created at Owen when Tim Raines, who coached the team for over 20 years, retired after the 2016-17 season.

The Warlassies were 17-9 before Fernandez took over and led them to a 20-7 record. It was the first time the program won 20 games in a season in over a decade. The Warlassies finished second in the Western Highlands Conference behind perennial conference champion Mountain Heritage.

Fernandez guided Owen to the second round of the state playoffs, where they fell in the second round to Atkins High School. Chesney Gardner, the leading scorer and rebounder for the Warlassies, missed the game due to illness.

He was hopeful to find a full-time teaching position in the Owen District over the summer, but was unable to do so, Fernandez said.

“I love coaching basketball,” he said. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to coach at the college level.”

Mars Hill, which plays in the South Atlantic Conference, is coached by Jenny Finora. The Lions finished the 2017-18 season with a 2-26 record. Fernandez brings a passion for the sport and an emphasis on competition in practice to the program. 

He will missed at Owen, said athletic director Anthony Lee. 

"We want to congratulate Aaron on getting a job with the program at Mars Hill," Lee said. "He did a great job for us and we really wish him the best."

The varsity basketball head coaching position is currently posted at buncombecountyschools.org, where it will remain for about three weeks, he said. 

"After that we will take a look at the candidates and start setting up interviews," Lee said.

The Warlassies graduated six seniors from last year's roster, including Dee Graves, who will play basketball at Central Carolina Community College and Kendal Marlowe, who will play for Montreat College. 

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