Highlanders count on returning players to lead the way

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Eureka Springs Highlanders won 22 games a year ago and they hope to build on that in 2017. J.M. Gregg and Avery Walker each graduated for the Highlanders, but several key pieces return.

“Carter Drennon and Garrett Cross, those guys really matured a lot throughout the season last year,” Eureka Springs coach Brian Rambo said. “Not only did they grow as players, but they grew physically. They are both about 6-3, 6-4 right now. Those are our two go-to guys right now.”

In Eureka Springs’ Red and White game Friday night, Cross finished with 41 points and Drennon had 23. Rambo said there are plenty of other role players the Highlanders will be counting on to step up throughout the year.

“Brandon Ray and Dalton Arnold are both seniors,” Rambo said. “We have Justin Lemme back, another senior. They are going to contribute some big minutes for us. Slade Clark is really shooting the ball well. He knows he has to get more physical on the defensive end. Jackson Cross will play some minutes for us as a sophomore. Kayden Eckman has really grown as a player over the last year. He has turned into a really good shooter, he just lacks experience so we are trying to get him some minutes early in the year. We have all the tools in place and expect to have a good year.”

Heading into the season, Rambo feels as if the Highlanders need to become more aggressive.

“I think offensively we will be fine, but right now I’m concerned about our toughness and our rebounding,” Rambo said. “It takes time. It’s hard to simulate it in practice. We just have to come out, play some quality opponents right off the bat and get battle-tested.”

Aside from Eureka Springs’ difficult conference schedule, the Highlanders will be playing Berryville, Green Forest and Haas Hall Academy. The Highlanders are also competing in the Lavaca tournament, a field that will feature Paris, Lamar, Pea Ridge and Providence Academy.

“In our conference and outside of conference, I think we are playing four top-10 teams this year,” Rambo said. “Western Grove is really good. Omaha and Alpena are going to be really good. We have Deer on the schedule, who is really good. This four teams are probably in the top 10 in 1A basketball. And 1A basketball is legitimate. We are going to be tested.”

Rambo knows the early-season schedule won’t be easy, but he expects the Highlanders to get through it with their heads held high.

“Hopefully we go out and win the games we should win and get a few we probably shouldn’t win,” Rambo said. “And then just continue to get better until conference season. If our guys don’t play well early and get down on themselves, they could cash it in and it could be a long season. Or they could find some fight and grit and get better. I think they will. We understand that we have expectations in our program. We are expected to play well and win ballgames.”

Rambo expects his junior high team to have a successful season this year as well.

“We look the part in junior high,” Rambo said. “We have two 6-1 guys. We have a tremendous point guard in Buddy Milawski and probably the best junior high player in the area with Matthew Lester. We have all the pieces in that group. It’s kind of the same with senior high. We just have to find a way to get stops.”

Girls: The Eureka Springs Lady Highlanders relied on a number of upperclassmen to lead the way in 2016. Now, coach Adam Brothers hopes five sophomores will take charge.

“We are loaded with sophomores this year with Grayson Ertel, Gracie Lester, Emily Lovejoy and Katelyn Ross,” Brothers said. “It will be a learning experience the first part of the year. We are going to get after it defensively. Megan Holloway is 6-3. She can contain the post and she is hitting her outside shots right now. These girls are getting after it. We only lost four games in junior high. They are a great group of girls. They are going to work every day, they just don’t have any experience. We are loaded up with sophomores and I have no seniors this year.”

This is Brothers’ fourth season coaching this group of girls.

“I like for them to shoot the ball if they are open and at first they were hesitant, but now it’s automatic,” Brothers said. “If they are open they are going to take the shot and if they do miss, they have some help rebounding the ball.”

Brothers credits Holloway for getting her teammates involved offensively.

“Once the ball gets passed to her inside, that sets up our guards,” Brothers said. “She gets double-teamed and she knows when to kick it out for an open three.”

The Lady Highlanders have nine players on this year’s roster. To have success, Brothers said the Lady Highlanders must stay out of foul trouble.

“We have to learn how to play aggressive and play smart,” Brothers said. “We can all shoot the ball, we can all handle the ball. If we press well, we play well. That’s our bread and butter.”

Brothers said as long as the Lady Highlanders play team basketball, they have a chance to surprise some people this year.

“Our team excels at playing team ball,” Brothers said. “That’s when we are two steps ahead of the offense. When we start playing individual ball, that will be our downfall.”

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