It’s a season of high expectations for Ripley and head coach Craig Harmon. The veteran head coach has certainly seen his share of players and teams come through Ripley – he’s been at the school for over 20 years. And he says there’s something special about this year’s group of players.
“This team has more chemistry and it seems like they’re much closer together,” Harmon said. “They eat together at lunchtime, they run around together and it’s really the first group I’ve had for a longtime that’s like that – and chemistry means a lot.”
And that solid chemistry is built around multi-talented guard and Wake Forest signee Chase Fisher. The four-year starter is the backbone for the Vikings, both on the court and as a leader.
“A lot of the kids follow him – they really look up to him,” Harmon said. “He’s put a lot of input into our program. He brings energy and gave us confidence to where we feel like we can play anybody. He’s a team player.”
That leadership role is something Fischer says he’s embraced.
“A lot of the kids follow what I do. If I don’t go hard in practice, a lot of other kids don’t go hard,” Fischer said. “It’s hard to do – my brother was here and he was really a vocal player and that’s what I followed when I came up. I had to lead a little bit last year, but now I’d really say I’m the leader of this team and I’m just trying to work hard everyday.”
Fischer is one of three senior captains on the team, along with guard Derek Mullins and forward Nick Barnette. Harmon said Mullins is effective on both ends of the floor for the Vikings.
“He can really play defense, he can rebound and is a born leader on the floor,” Harmon said. “He’s also an excellent shooter.”
Another pivotal player for the Vikings this season is forward Cody Miller. Through the early part of January, the junior was averaging a double-double with just under 15 points and 10 rebounds per contest.
“Cody Miller I think could develop into one of the better inside players in the state,” Harmon said. “He’s very tall, very aggressive, has a great attitude and wants to get better all the time.”
Meanwhile, in the first two games of the year, Fischer was dominant on the floor, scoring 58 against St. Albans and then 54 against Parkersburg. He hit a combined 16 three pointers in both of those contests.
“During the games, I don’t even realize how many points I have – I’m just trying to play and win the game,” Fischer said. “But after the game, people tell me or I look at the stats. It’s good scoring those points, but one of those came in a loss so it didn’t really matter. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team win – if they need me to score.”
That loss was against Parkersburg – an 86-80 defeat in overtime. It’s a Big Reds team the Vikings will be battling with to get out of sectional play later in the year. Along with Parkersburg, Ripley’s section in region III consists of George Washington, Parkersburg South and Capital.
“All of those teams are really tough teams,” Fischer said. “I wouldn’t say it’s easy out of any section – but it’s extra hard in ours. It’s really tough and we know we’re going to have to win some games that we’re not supposed to win if we want to get to states.”
Ripley finished last season with a 14-9 record, falling in sectional play to George Washington. However, the key for the Vikings to emerge out of sectional play this year?
“We’re just going to keep working hard and stay humble and just play defense,” Fischer said. “That’s really the main thing – that’s been the knock on Ripley is that we don’t play defense.”
Regardless, the goals for Fischer and Ripley overall this season are clear.
“We have really high expectations and we expect nothing less than to make it to the states and we’re just trying to get better everyday as a basketball team – we’re really young and we have a lot to learn,” Fischer said. “The sky is the limit for this team and we’re just trying to get better everyday.”