FRONT ROYAL — Skyline’s boys basketball team hasn’t had a winning season since 2013 and claimed just six victories combined over the past two years. But there is a glimmer of hope for the Hawks as they head into their fourth season under head coach Jeff Monroe, which begins with tonight’s game at Rappahannock County.
Skyline won’t be hurting for players with varsity experience in 2018-19, a commodity that Monroe hasn’t had in recent seasons. Eight players return from last season’s team, which went 5-17 and failed to crack the Region 3B tournament field, including five with starting experience.
“For the first time in my four years here I feel like we can be competitive against anybody we play,” Monroe said after a nine-quarter scrimmage against Broadway and Luray last week. “The biggest thing the last few years, we’ve been so inexperienced, other than my first year here, but this group, we’ve got several guys back. … We lost Ryan Caperton (the Hawks’ second-leading scorer at 8.9 points per game) from last year’s team but we’ve got a lot of guys back and that’s what I feel comfortable about.”
The Hawks return their offensive centerpiece in senior point guard Ty Clingerman, who led the team in scoring (11.7 ppg) last season and was Skyline’s biggest long-range threat, making 66 of 174 3-point attempts (37.9 percent). He’s one of four returnees who averaged at least 7 points per game in 2017-18, a group that includes senior guard Dylan Allison (8.7 ppg), sophomore guard Mason Schmitz (8.0 ppg) and 6-foot-2 junior forward Jayden Norwood (7.8 ppg), who led the area with a 58.5 percent field goal percentage.
Schmitz, who emerged as a catalyst over the second half of last season, also led the Hawks in assists (2.7) and steals (2.2).
Allison said the Hawks find some comfort in the number of varsity veterans they’re able to put on the floor.
“Absolutely. I love being able to rely on my teammates,” he said. “If somebody messes up they can grab my back, clean it up or play defense if I’m stuck on help, or score a bucket, box out.”
A newcomer, 6-4 freshman Marlon Jackson, adds something fresh to the mix as well — a player with length that can contest and block shots as the second line of defense inside.
“We haven’t had that type of height and that type of athletic ability back there,” Monroe said. “He can erase some of our mistakes out front and that’s gonna help us a lot. I know that’s putting a lot of pressure on a freshman but we haven’t had that. … It’s gonna change a little bit of the way teams attack us, and that’s gonna be key.”
Monroe said he’s seen some positive things from Skyline on the defensive end in the preseason, noting that the Hawks are quicker than they’ve been but also have to be wary of taking gambles that get them out of position, a sequence that has cued defensive breakdowns in the past. He added that the Hawks’ ability to continue to progress on defense and producing as expected on the offensive end would dictate the team’s success.
Skyline’s effort to make those things happen shouldn’t be an issue.
“We’re gonna hustle,” Clingerman said. “We’re gonna be a hustle team and we’re gonna be a sound defensive team.”
“It feels a little different,” senior forward Marcel Roy added. “I feel like this year we go harder in practice and we wanna get better every day.”
That’s an encouraging sign for a program that needs a culture change after five straight losing seasons. Monroe, who noted that the culture building is “getting better” but still needs work, said he’s added some new features to the team this year — which include player workouts with Frisby’s Agility, Speed and Strength Training (FASST) — to encourage progress.
“We’re just trying to build something,” Monroe said. “It’s been tough. … I’ve been trying to tell these seniors, ‘y’all could be the group to change this. Y’all could be the group to change a lot for a lot of our sports.’ A lot of these kids play two or three sports. Not having them be successful has hurt us, and it’s hurt us in all our sports. Hopefully this group will have success early and we can build on it.”
After tonight’s opener against Rappahannock County, the Hawks travel to Central — a team reloading after a Class 2 state semifinal run — on Monday.
“I feel good about this group,” Monroe said. “... I think the biggest thing is gonna be having success early. A lot of these guys haven’t had success, not only on the court but in any of the sports they’ve played the last few years, unfortunately. So just teaching them how to win, that’s the biggest thing right now.”