When the St. Albans boys basketball team welcomes Hurricane for Friday’s season opener, it will do so nearly one year removed from claiming its first regional championship in 16 seasons.
Unfortunately for the Red Dragons, they never appeared in the 2020 state tournament, with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic ending the season before it could be played.
Still, St. Albans has fond memories of last season. The Red Dragons won eight of their final nine games and compiled a 17-8 mark that included a postseason win over Kanawha County rival Capital and a regional final victory at Woodrow Wilson in convincing fashion, 68-53.
However, a senior class of Rodney Toler, Ethan Clay and Braxton Good that was largely responsible for the program’s turnaround over a three-year span, is no longer around. Toler captained the Class AAA second-team all-state last year, while Clay was an honorable mention pick.
“We lost three starters from last year and Ethan Clay and Rodney Toler were four-year starters,” Red Dragons’ coach Bryan England said. “They’re great kids and I owe them a lot for the experiences they gave me at St. Albans.”
Fortunately for England, a strong core of contributors returns this season, helping him keep the bar high as the Red Dragons move to Class AAAA.
This year’s team will also feature three seniors — returning all-state honorable mention pick Jaimelle Claytor, Bones Johnson and Ametrice Hall — in addition to junior Drew Reed, a returning starter and perimeter threat.
Claytor will start for a fourth season, while Johnson has been a major contributor the last two seasons. Hall, a Martinsburg transfer, is also expected to factor into the mix.
“I’m very excited about the guys that we have back,” England said.
Additionally, juniors Jamison McDaniels and Jerrelle Claytor and sophomores Cooper Lane-Sturgill and Michael Hindman got some experience at the varsity level last season.
“Those are guys I’ve coached before that I’m really excited about,” England said.
England is also raving about the program’s newcomers and added, “We have a crew of freshmen that is probably the best freshmen class I’ve ever had.”
Just how much the freshmen contribute remains to be seen.
“We have so much experience back with eight guys that have had varsity time that the (freshmen) are really having to compete,” England said.
England has liked what he’s seen in preseason practices.
“In my time at St. Albans, these are the most competitive practices we’ve had,” he said. “I like that these guys are getting after it. They’re learning about failure in practice, so that’s a good thing.”
England will soon discover much more about his team, which was tied with South Charleston for fourth in the Mountain State Athletic Conference preseason poll.
“I’m very thankful to be able to coach basketball again,” England said. “There was a point in time that we just didn’t know if we were ever going to get back to playing and coaching. We know it’s going to be a year of ups and downs. What we’ve been telling our team is try to control what you can control. We just have to control each day as best we can. I’m excited about St. Albans boys basketball and the prospects for this year.”