RIPLEY - The Viking basketball team has found itself in an enviable position. Yes, the squad finished (2-18) last season on a team with two seniors. One of those seniors (Cody Miller) only played in six games due to an injury.
The 2012-'13 squad returns eight seniors and they are led by the guard tandem of Casy Smith and Jacob Haynes.
The players are different in personality and style. Jacob is outgoing and greets you with a big smile and a handshake while Casy is much more reserved and quiet.
On the court, it's no secret that both players are comfortable taking the game winning shot or putting the team on their back when they have to. Both players can catch fire and burn the net. Smith burned Saint Albans for six three pointers last season in a close loss where he netted 26 points.
Haynes dropped five three pointers at Parkersburg South and hit a key trey against Ravenswood in the final two minutes of the game that served as a dagger for the Red Devils as Ripley won 50-40 at Ripley Health Center.
Obviously, both players like to shoot the rock. What seems to be apparent this season is that both Vikings are dedicated to putting their focus on the team and that getting the victory is much more important than what lies on the stat sheet.
"I think we have matured since last season," said Haynes. "I think that this year we are far more focused and we want to win badly."
Haynes has unselfishly made the switch to point guard for the team and has embraced the role that was executed by committee last season after the starter at the position quit the team at mid-season.
Haynes (6-0) averaged 10.0 points per game last season with 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He also led the Ripley golf team this summer. As far as hoops, the scorer worked on driving to the basket and making more accurate, timely passes.
"We really are trying to be smarter with the ball and get good looks at the basket early.
Our team unity is so much better this year," added Haynes. Coach Craig Harmon has seen the changes in his point guard as he begins his senior season.
"Jacob has a natural feel for the game. He anticipates well and plays hard. We look for him to have a fine year this season. "Smith (5-11), who had a consistent mid-range jump shot last season, played a lot of basketball in the off-season and worked on his game. He worked on his outside shot, ball handling and finishing when he is inside around the trees.
Smith averaged 10.0 ppg and 2.9 rebounds per contest in 2011-'12.
"I like the offenses we are running now and we are getting more comfortable with it. I think they are going to help us out a lot as the season gets going," said Smith.
Harmon had positive words for Smith's efforts in the Ripley Basketball program.
"Casy works harder in the off-season than any player we have. He lives and breathes basketball and I think he will be one of the better guards in our conference this season (MSAC).
The guards will have some help this season. Post man Chuck Sleboda returns for his senior season in the post and junior Drew Harpold, who became a starter towards the end of last season is showing early signs of being a really nice player at the three man spot.
Junior Kade Harrison returns as the team's leading scorer (14.6).
Haynes and Smith both agree that unselfish play will lead to Viking victories this season. One thing is for certain; the blue and white backcourt will be shooting for success.