Conference play ready to heat up

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   Now that the first half of the season is over, high school basketball takes a turn towards conference play.
   Several teams in this area are in fighting reach of a conference title and an edge in district tournament play, and these next few weeks will be very critical towards the campaign of many.
   Heated races have begun in our local conferences, especially in the Watauga Conference girls division.
   Elizabethton and Unicoi County are the favorites after the first half of the year, but look for Sullivan Central to make a strong run at both teams.
   This division will be a toss up come district tournament time, as it could pose to be any team who wants it. A prime example of this is last year's upset over Central by Happy Valley.
   The Watauga Valley girls race is no surprise, it has come down to Cloudland and Unaka. The first meeting between both of these teams will take place on January 24th in Roan Mountain, where Cloudland will be favored.
   But don't count the Lady Rangers out yet, several state pollsters have been predicting them to topple Cloudland this season and put them both as favorites for the state tournament.
   The Watauga Conference boys race is in the hands of the Cyclones.
   Elizabethton will decide their own destiny again this year, and whether or not they want to capitalize is their decision.
   Making a strong argument is Sullivan Central and Johnson County among others. Both of these squads are primed for late conference runs this season, but time will tell after this week when they both meet up the Betsy Ballers.
   The Watauga Valley Conference is favored with the Junior Bucs of University High at this stage in the season. The Bucs are still undefeated and skipped out on a match-up last week with Unaka.
   Cloudland and Unaka will pose a serious threat to Unaka, particularly the weaker Cloudland, surprisingly, with their stronger inside game.
   Look for this battle to be decided during the last conference game of the season on Stoney Creek between the Bucs and Rangers.

   BOYS PLAYER OF THE WEEK (DEC. 24-JAN. 4): RUSTY CHAMBERS, UNAKA
   Chambers averaged 23 points per game in the Grindstaff Holiday Classic at Hampton High School. He led Unaka to victories over Happy Valley and North Greene during the tournament.
   OTHER NOTABLES: B.J. Miller, Elizabethton (16 ppg. in Arby's); Vince Redd, Elizabethton (All-Arby's); Jordy Harrison, Happy Valley (All-Grindstaff); Robbie Tolley, Cloudland (19 ppg. in tourney).
  
GIRLS PLAYER OF THE WEEK (DEC. 24-JAN. 4): TARA HANSON, CLOUDLAND

   Hanson averaged 17 points per game en route to becoming the Tournament MVP at the Bandana's Bar-B-Q High Country Prep Classic in Boone, NC. She helped guide Cloudland to victories over two 4-A squads, and a win in the title game over host Watauga.
   OTHER NOTABLES: Stachia Johnson, Cloudland (Tourney Most Outstanding); Holly Blair, Cloudland (All-Tourney); Heather Taylor, Unaka (All-Dale Hollow Tourney); Renee Ensor, Unaka.

BOYS GAMES OF THE WEEK

  
JOHNSON COUNTY AT ELIZABETHTON

   It's the battle of the STAR Pre-Season Cover. Matt Cornett versus Vince Redd, but if you go to that game just to see those two play, you will be missing a lot more. B.J. Miller and Jordan Lambert have been shooting hotter than Tommy Short and Judd Shoun.
   Look for 'Big Redd' and the orange and black attack to serve some roast beef after the contest. ELIZABETHTON 73-58
  
CLOUDLAND AT NORTH GREENE

   North Greene topped the Highlanders at the Grindstaff Classic with a game winning bucket after trailing the majority of the contest. Cloudland is bouncing off of a big win and looking to start rolling in conference play. CLOUDLAND 66-58
  
TENNESSEE TEMPLE AT UNAKA

   The defending TSSAA 1-A State Champions travel to Snavely Gym this Friday night to take on the Unaka Rangers. Temple features one of the state's premier players in Jake Skogen, and are currently posting a 9-2 mark. TEMPLE 88-72
  
ELIZABETHTON AT SULLIVAN CENTRAL

   The Cyclones spanked the Cougars in their first outing of the season, dealing Central their only loss of the season. The Cougars will be mad and ready to rip into Elizabethton, but they will not beat them this year. ELIZABETHTON 68-51
  
GIRLS GAMES OF THE WEEK
  
VOLUNTEER AT HAPPY VALLEY
  
This contest will be a big conference test for the Lady Warriors. However, this one is at Bayless Gym and you know what that means. It means the maroon and white will come up big. HAPPY VALLEY 47-34
  
TENNESSEE TEMPLE AT UNAKA
  
The Lady Crusaders travel to Stoney Creek posting a 2-5 mark on the season, but don't let that distract you. They have played a tough schedule of teams including defending state champ Ezell-Harding. However, Unaka's girls are fired up after a good tournament outing. UNAKA 65-54