Prep hoops have been full of surprises

By Wes Holtsclaw
The halfway mark of prep's basketball season has finally turned the corner.
The area has senn several eye-openers on the hardwood, or teams that have either excelled past expectations or have seen many different players rise to the occasion.
It has also witnessed several sleepers, or teams not playing up to their expectations during the first half of the season. These teams do have the ability to make things happen from this point forward.
Many teams have turned the corner late in seasons, with the regular season not meaning as much as the tournaments down the road.
If the last few months of this season are anything like last year, it will be nothing short of a wild roller coaster.
1. Elizabethton Boys -- The Elizabethton Cyclones have done a tremendous job during the first half of the season after losing a large bulk of their scoring offense.
Much of the credit goes to coach Tony Hardin, who has some younger talent on the team that is poised to step up in the future. The Cyclones sit at third in the conference with an 8-8 record.
2. Happy Valley Boys - Despite a 2-3 conference mark at this point, the Warriors have turned a lot of heads this season with their fast-paced game.
Coach Charlie Bayless has a team that should be the favorite in the conference within the next two seasons. Big wins over Unaka, Cloudland and Hampton have highlighted the Warriors' season thus far.
3. (TIE) Elizabethton/Hampton Girls - The fact that the Elizabethton and Hampton girls units are within the top three teams in the Watauga Conference at this point is not the surprise.
The thing that stands out is the younger players on both teams stepping up to win games.
Both teams are laden with players that will make a big difference over the next two or three years, which could keep them at the top of the league.
1. Johnson County Boys - The Longhorns returned three starters and some young players that could contribute a lot early; however, they have fallen down from last season's sub-state run as they sit at the bottom of the current conference standings.
The squad has a good coach in Austin Atwood that should turn things around. They will win more conference games, but will have a hard time making the regional tourney this season.
2. Happy Valley Girls - My pre-season selection for the top of the Watuaga Conference was a disappointment at the beginning of the season; however, the Lady Warriors have slowly begun to turn things around with some big wins.
They have the talent to make a strong post-season run in the tournaments and are capable of a few big upsets.
Two weeks before the start of the 2003-2004 season, I made some predicitions for each conference. In comparing the picks and the current standings, you can see the rise of certain teams and the fall of others.
Pre-season Picks: 1. Volunteer, 2. Sullivan Central, 3. Sullivan North, 4. Happy Valley, 5. Elizabethton, 6. Hampton, 7. Johnson County, 8. Unicoi County
Current Standings: 1. Volunteer, 2. Sullivan Central, 3. Elizabethton, 4. Unicoi County, 5. Sullivan North, 6. Happy Valley, 7. Hampton, 8. Johnson County
Tuesday night, Hampton had their game against Unicoi County in the palms of their hands. I see the Bulldogs improving, while Happy Valley should finish in the top four.
My picks: 1. Happy Valley, 2. Sullivan Central, 3. Unicoi County, 4. Elizabethton (tie), 4. Hampton (tie), 6. Volunteer, 7. Sullivan North, 8. Johnson County
Current Standings: 1. Elizabethton, 2. Unicoi County, 3. Hampton, 4. Sullivan Central, 5. Sullivan North, 6. Happy Valley, 7. Volunteer, 8. Johnson County
An injury has dampened Sullivan Central's season, as a healthy squad could see them in the top three. Unicoi County and Elizabethton will battle for the top two positions in the standings, while Hampton should hold on to their slot.
My Picks: 1. Unaka, 2. Cloudland, 3. University High, 4. North Greene, 5. Clinch
Current Standings: 1. Unaka, 2. Cloudland, 3. North Greene, 4. University High, 5. Clinch
Unaka and Cloudland meet next week in their first game of the season. I believe they will meet in the district finals and should be the two favorites in the regional tournament.
North Greene and University High have yet to meet and will give each other a run for third.
My Picks: 1. Unaka, 2. Cloudland, 3. North Greene, 4. University High
Current Standings: 1. Unaka, 2. Univeristy High, 3. North Greene, 4. Cloudland
Unaka is holding on to the top spot in the conference, despite a loss to North Greene. Cloudland has yet to play a conference girls game and will see a pair of close games against University High and North Greene.
I see Unaka holding onto their reigns through the region tournament.
On a softball note, Happy Valley senior ace pitcher and infielder Alicia Dick will sign Friday morning with Milligan College to play softball with the Lady Buffaloes.
It will be the first softball signing in the history of the Lady Warrior program, which speaks highly of the talent coming through the school.
Dick hit over .300 last season, tossing a perfect game and achieving a winning record on the mound during her junior campaign.
The Lady Warriors are the early favorite to win the Watauga Conference this season, returning the bulk of its starters.