Trio peaking at right time for Unaka Team

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   The Unaka Rangers have had their ups and downs this season.
   With one senior on this year's squad, the team has relied on younger players and bursts of momentum. Three juniors off of this squad have stepped into the limelight and given their fans a sneak peak of what to expect next year, but they're not waiting for success.
   The trio of Cody Collins, Rusty Chambers and Josh Jones are a big reason why the Rangers (15-16, 7-1) took a hold of the Watauga Valley championship.
   "They are playing their roles much better within what we need them to do," said Unaka coach Donald Ensor. "They are doing a good job of letting the game come to them instead of forcing the issue."
   Collins and Chambers have been role players on the squad since their freshman season with the club, while Jones has become one of the top centers in the conference this half of the season after working from football.
   Said Collins: "It's been kind of hard. Rusty and I have been role players and now we are trying to command the team. We're doing a pretty good job of it right now."
   "I've liked this since my freshman year," said Chambers. "I knew I wanted to come here and play in the eighth grade. We've just wanted to play hard and do what they want us to do."
   "It took both of them awhile," Ensor said of Chambers and Collins. "They both played as freshmen, but they were surrounded with veterans. It's took them some time to adapt to their roles and their doing a much better job at that."
   "I started slow straight out of football," said Jones. "It took a while to get in shape, but it feels real good. We are starting to play good together."
   "(Josh) is in shape now and that's has a lot to do with it. He is very coachable and he's been able to take what we do in practice and apply it in the game," Ensor said.
   Collins has been an on court leader for the team. Playing the point guard position, he is regarded as one of the best ball handlers in the area.
   "We just got to go out and play hard every game," Collins said. "We have to make sure we play hard on defense. (The coaching) has been real good. They want us to go out and give a hundred percent every game and don't expect nothing less from us."
   Chambers and Jones have began to click with each other, averaging 40 points in every outing since their first victory over University High.
   "We're doing well together," Chambers said, "But our defense has really carried the team. Most of the guards we've played have not been able to carry through the press. It has helped us out a lot."
   Their squad is resembling last year's state tournament team with their stride during the last few weeks of the season. However, there is still some improvement to be made.
   Said Chambers: "At the first of this season, we went downhill and we knew we had to get in the gym and do what they told us. Last year we started out slow, but we came in the gym and worked to pick up some wins. That's what we've got to do now."
   "We're doing it later than any team I've had," Ensor said. "They are nowhere near their potential and we can't become satisfied. We are capable of improving every day in the gym. When they are capable of winning seven and eight in a row, I'll know they are ready."
   "We've got a real good senior (in Chris Arnold)," Jones said. "We've still got to learn to play with each other and step up. This is our team next year, but we want (to reach our goals) now."
   All three players are appreciative with the support they have received from their families and the Unaka fans.
   "We've got the best fans around," said Collins. "Everybody's family has been real good and everybody supports the boys well."
   Said Jones: "They have been real supportive. It was up and down for awhile this season, but they support us every game."
   "The support has been great," Chambers said. "I'd rather play here than anywhere. The coaches encourage us and so do they. Even if we lose or win, they are there to back us."
   The Rangers enter the district tournament with one goal in mind.
   "Our goal is the state tournament," said Jones. "We wouldn't be playing if it wasn't going for that and I think if we play our game, we can do it."
   Said Chambers: "I believe we've got a shot (at doing well in the postseason). We've got to play hard and stay in the gym. If we work hard, it will help us this year and give us momentum for next year."