published Friday, January 27th, 2012

Jackets pointing to sectional return

Dan Marino took what turned out to be his only trip to the Super Bowl for granted, thinking it would be just as easy for him to return as it was to advance initially. Lookout Valley basketball coach Joe Galloway doesn't want his Yellow Jacket to make a similar mistake.

A season removed from the program's first sectional appearance in 11 years, the Yellow Jackets are off to a 15-5 start and a 6-1 record in District 6-A. Galloway's hope is that the success since late last season doesn't cause his team to get complacent before reaching the bigger goal -- the Class A state tournament.

The Jackets traveled to Clay County and lost 67-50 in last season's sectional round and later said they weren't quite prepared for that game.

"We didn't expect to go to substate," junior William Long said. "We thought we could win the district, and possibly make a run in the region, but substate was pretty surprising. This year it's one of our goals to win the region because we had to go to Clay County and were pretty shocked: There were a lot of people, and we weren't mentally prepared to see that many people."

Long is one of the leaders among four starters returning from a 21-12 team, the only loss being post Stracey Bonner. Delaney Heathington and Long have both gone over 1,000 career points this season.

"I play off of him," Heathington said. "What he does, I try to do the same. If he's having a good game, I try to have one, too. If he's not having a good game, I try to pick up the slack."

Tyler Gay, Zeke Rudolph and Tshombe Farmer round out the senior class, while Kendall Parham has moved into the slot vacated by Bonner.

Galloway hopes this team has been able to learn from its mistakes -- both from the Clay County loss and in poor performances this season.

"My hope is what hurt us in some of these games we've improved on," he said. "We don't want to take it for granted that we're going to get back [to the sectional]. Our job is to get better every day; if you do that, you'll have a chance, and that's all we're looking for. If you overlook one opponent, your chance could be gone and it may be somebody that you're better than."

The Jackets must get through a region that Galloway labeled "one with the most parity" in 20 years, with 6-A foe Van Buren County and 5-A opponents Arts & Sciences and Grace Academy to deal with. Should they advance, a date with an opponent from Region 4-A, which includes seventh-ranked Clay County, eighth-ranked Friendship Christian and 13th-ranked Watertown, would loom.

"We want it so bad," Heathington said. "We hadn't been in a long time and we'd love to make history for our school. We've set our goals to make it this year; the loss that ended last season made us hungry."

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