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‘Refreshed’ Mohigans make most of summer, remain tight-knit after capturing title

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown left little doubt who was the best boys basketball team in the state last season.

In addition to capturing the school’s first Class AAAA championship in the second season of West Virginia high school basketball utilizing four classifications, the Mohigans ran the table against in-state competition, winning all 22 contests.

It was the Mohigans’ first state championship since 2016 when they capped off an unbeaten season with a victory over Huntington in the Class AAA final, yet Mohigans’ head coach David Tallman changed his approach this offseason from how he went about things after finishing 27-0 six years ago.

“I did it different than last time. We gave each other time away from each other, so we didn’t even get together until June,” Tallman said. “They all went and played AAU and did their own thing. We came back in June and everybody was kind of refreshed. The hadn’t heard my voice for two months, which was probably a good thing.”

When the Mohigans returned for summer workouts and to participate in organized events during the three-week period, they did so with a major addition to their roster.

Although five seniors, three of which were regular contributors, finished their high school careers by going out on top in March, Morgantown added 6-foot-6 Garrison Kisner, a University transfer who will play his final season at MHS and recently offered his commitment to West Liberty.

“Garrison comes in and he’s friends with all my guys. He plays AAU with a bunch of them, so he just kind of naturally fits in,” Tallman said. “I was shocked when I got an email saying that he enrolled in our school, but we’re glad to have him. He’s a great kid and he’s doing really well. The nucleus seems really good. Last year, we had a really tight-knit group and this seems to be more of the same.”

The chemistry of last season’s team was a credit to a memorable senior class that featured leading scorer Alec Poland, who concluded his prep career by earning first-team all-state honors with an 18.1 scoring average. Another senior critical to the Mohigans’ success was guard Brooks Gage, the team’s top perimeter threat and a second-team all-state pick with a 14.3 scoring average.

Jalen Goins, fifth on MHS last season in scoring, has also departed, taking away some of the team’s proven depth in the backcourt.

But there’s enough returning, which combined with the addition of Kisner, that the Mohigans will likely be among the more dangerous teams in the state come winter.

Point guard Sha’Ron Young earned first-team all-state honors as a sophomore. While Young averaged 15 points, other aspects of his game — namely ball-handling, distributing and defense — are of equal, if not more value to the Mohigans.

Athletic wings Brody Davis and Cameron Danser were fixtures in last season’s rotation and both will likely assume more featured roles as seniors. Post player Dakoma Neal also enters his senior campaign and gives the Mohigans a quality role player capable of rebounding and freeing up teammates with screens.

There’s also a group rising to the varsity ranks that while unproven at that level, has tasted success in high school.

“Our JV team lost one game last year and our freshman team was undefeated,” Tallman said. “We’re kind of reloading. I’m not being cocky saying that, but this program is healthy.”

Tallman is optimistic enough about his team that he opted for the Mohigans to compete in a DC Live event at Sidwell Friends School from June 17-19, which allowed Morgantown to play four games over three days.

Morgantown split its four games at the event and competed against Washington Catholic Athletic Conference powers Gonzaga College High School and St. John’s College High School, both of which Tallman is plenty familiar with from his days as head coach at St. Mary’s Ryken of the WCAC.

“About every college coach in the country was there. We had a little nerves early seeing that,” Tallman said. “We’re not used to that. The talent and the length, we played against guys that’ll go anywhere they want to go. But we held our own and did well. It was ugly and sloppy, but that’s what we wanted. We were able to grind it out and got two good wins. We played Gonzaga and St. John’s, who are national perennial powers, pretty tough.

“It was really good for us and I think it’s helped us coming back and playing in West Virginia after playing versus kids going to Duke, Maryland and schools like that. It was a really good experience for everybody. I’ve noticed our young kids are playing a lot better after facing that.”

Upon returning from the nation’s capital, the Mohigans hosted a 12-team shootout at the recently completed Hazel & J.W. Ruby Community Center at Mylan Park.

Morgantown welcomed a strong field to the event that included teams from various classifications in Bridgeport, Capital, Elkins, Fairmont Senior, Hampshire, Magnolia, North Marion, University, Williamstown, Winfield and Woodrow Wilson.

“We were trying to bring different levels from 4A on down where we have good competition and guys can get good run against guys they don’t usually see in the summer time,” Tallman said. “So far, so good and just happy that we could have this event. We want to grow this every year.”

Considering Morgantown is one play away from having consecutive Class AAAA state championships (the Mohigans fell to George Washington in the final seconds of the 2021 final), Tallman wants his squad to be ready to take the opposition’s best shot every time it takes to the hardwood. For now, however, the head coach isn’t focused on going back to back.

“We’re not really talking about repeating or anything like that,” he said. “We’re just trying to get better. These guys are very mature for their age, so they don’t really let things like that get to them. We’re just trying to get stronger and get better as individuals and as a team. I don’t think we’re feeling that pressure yet. I think we will once the season starts, but right now, we’re just hooping it up in the summer.”

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