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South boys retool, girls regroup
South Forsyth's Spencer Haywood (20) drives around fellow sophomore Taylor Moore (23) during a recent practice. - photo by Jared Putnam

You might want to keep a program handy if you’re attending a basketball game at South Forsyth this year, especially if you’re there to watch the boys play.

Changes will be evident on the court for both varsities, with the War Eagle boys having shed their top five scorers from a year ago.

Things are less drastic for a girls team which returns four starters, but the Lady Eagles will need to fill a big hole in the middle with Lara Gaspar — last year’s county player of the year — now a freshman at the University of Rhode Island.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” boys coach David Sokol said. “I think guys have been progressing. The effort’s been there the entire time since we started in the offseason ... so they’re wanting to work and be the best they can be, but we’ve just got a little ways to go.”

The players Sokol returns aren’t necessarily young, but they are a little green.

“We’ve got upperclassmen. They just don’t necessarily have the experience on the court during the game,” Sokol said.

The most seasoned member of the Eagles is post Derek Zittrauer, a 6-foot-7 senior who will be expected to produce plenty of points and rebounds in the paint, Sokol said.

Beyond that, nothing’s for sure, but the coach thinks seniors Kevin Bibler and Jonathan Sauls will be important pieces in the backcourt, with Sauls playing kind of a hybrid point-and-shooting guard role and Bibler also playing some forward.

Out of five sophomores on the roster, two are at guard, so Sokol expects there to be a learning curve in the backcourt.

“We still have some shooters. It’s just a matter [that] we don’t have the ball handlers that can get to the basket and create like we did last year,” he said.

Some of the newer faces Sokol hopes can impact the varsity this year are former JV player Nick Grant, a 6-foot-4 junior whom the coach describes as a “great shooter,” Tyler Landry, a 6-foot-3 junior expected to make some impact around the basket and Jimmie Lewis, a senior transfer who stands 6-foot-7.

Judging by those examples, it’s clear Sokol sees his team’s strength as coming from inside the perimeter this year.

Sokol says he hopes to use the first part of the season to figure out which lineup and approach works best for his team, which tips off the season in the Turkey Shootout against Stone Mountain Saturday.

“I think that’s going to be a work in progress the first part of the season ...  I think we’re going to have some ups and downs at the beginning of the year, but hopefully it gels and we figure out what’s going to work for us and we’ll surprise some teams.”

Lack of experience won’t be much of an issue for South’s girls this season. The Lady War Eagles will have a pair of returning seniors in the starting lineup, with Stephanie Storms in the backcourt and Katie Onushko in the frontcourt.

Also returning from last year’s starting lineup will be juniors Courtney Clark and Kirsten Ebert.

Six-foot junior T.J. Howell also recorded her share of minutes a year ago, while junior Nicole Roswano and sophomore Jordan Heber have looked good in practice, according to coach Keith Gravitt.

Still, replacing the 6-foot Gaspar in the post won’t be easy, the coach admits.

“Lara is a tough player to replace,” Gravitt said. “We are trying to take advantage of all of our team’s and  individual’s strengths and limit weaknesses. The players have been very receptive to suggestions and willing to try different lineups in order to help the team become as strong as it can.”

Gravitt also said the team will look to its three seniors — Storms, Onushko and Amy Burke — to provide leadership this year.

The veterans on the team aren’t strangers to the degree of competition that playing in Region 7-AAAAA presents, something the coach hopes will pay off this year.

“We hope with several players that have two or more years of varsity play in our region that they are ready to use their experience to help the team be successful,” Gravitt said.