RIPLEY - All it takes is a few minutes watching the Ripley Middle School basketball team and a couple of things are abundantly clear. They are extremely well coached and these kids can flat out shoot the rock.
Head coach Mark Wayne enters his third year as the team's skipper and twentieth season in the coaching ranks.
Wayne's squad went on a late season tear through the MVAC tournament last season and found themselves in the championship game versus the Generals of Winfield. This came on the heels of an upset of a fantastic Poca Middle team.
While the Vikings (10-10) finished as the conference runner-up, they proved to be a force to deal with entering the 2012-'13 season.
While players continue to battle for starting varsity positions, the teams leader is obviously a shooting guard with deep range named Jamison Hunt. Hunt is a three-year starter who works hard in the off-season on the fundamentals that have brought his game to a new level. Hunt has developed into one of the premier players in the league.
"We were in the gym a lot this summer with AAU and other teams. We only lost a couple of games. I think our team is a much better shooting team this year," said Hunt, who has experienced a growing spurt and stands at about 5-9.
According to coach Wayne, second year starter Elijah Riffe is the glue that holds this unit together. The tailback for the football team has also improved his skills in the off-season and was canning mid-range shots throughout the practice session.
"We really worked on our defense, dribbling skills, shooting and foul shooting. I really worked on my ball handling a lot. We have a chance to be one of the better foul shooting teams in the league. This team can shoot the ball. Even our post guys have developed some range," said Riffe.
One of the team's most improved players is post man Nathan Hall. This will be Hall's first year starting but his late season contributions in the post season helped to carry the team and provide another dependable post presence opposite Luke Layhew, who has gotten the call up from the freshman team to coach Craig Harmon's Viking high school squad.
Hall has developed a mid-range shooting touch making him a versatile chess piece for coach Wayne.
Chase Johnson is a 6-2 eighth grader who has perimeter and post skills as well.
"We are very excited about his effort and potential," added Wayne.
Ely Casto will handle most of the point guard duties as hunt will also take on the role throughout the season. Casto is smart with the ball and makes good decisions in transition.
J.T. Rollins, and Todd Withrow are first year post players who have made their presence known in practice. Lane Casto, Garrett Robertson and Connor Isner have also worked hard and made an impression early on.
Veteran assistant coach Vince Riffe is excited about the potential of the team.
"If we can stay healthy and continue to grow defensively, we can have a nice year. This team will have no problem scoring."
Coach Wayne likes the balance that the team has shown offensively.
"We are going to be awfully competitive and we have grown in every aspect of the game. We have a great group of hard working kids that can make a mark in high school if they continue to work hard and stay together."
The Ripley Middle School hoopsters open their season with two home games on consecutive nights due to last minute scheduling changes made by opposing schools. The blue and white open December 10 with Madison and December 11 against Logan.
If you would like to sponsor a middle school basketball player for their fundraising foul shooting extravaganza this month, contact any player or coach Wayne for details. All proceeds benefit the RpMS basketball team. Check back with JN for coverage.