Rangers hope tough schedule helps against Cosby Eagles

By Tim Chambers

STAR STAFF
tchambers@starhq.com

   It's no secret why Unaka's head coach Donald Ensor chose to play probably the toughest schedule in school history this season. Playing good teams makes you get better. And going on the road playing good teams will tell you where you need to be come tournament time.
   Thus is the case with the Unaka boy's basketball team, one of the most respected roundball programs across the state. Monday night, the Rangers will play host to the Cosby Eagles in sub-state action, their third sub-state game in four years.
   This time the game will be played in the friendly confines of Snavely Gymnasium before an anticipated sellout crowd.
   The boys from Stoney Creek earned their 20th win of the season Wednesday night with a come from behind win over arch rival University High.
   They topped that win off Thursday night with a 54-45 win over Hancock County in the Region 1A championship game on the Indians' home floor. Only a few weeks ago, some fans viewed the Rangers as a sinking ship, but the ship appears fixed and is no longer taking water.
   Not only are they a top contender each year, but they develop young players at a rapid pace. Senior standout Rusty Chambers continues to play well and will no doubt leave his mark as one of the the most versatile players to ever wear the maroon and white at Unaka.
   Chambers is one of the top scorers in East Tennessee, but his passing ability and leadership has been vital to the maroon and white.
   Cody Collins is the backbone of the squad. He gives every ounce of energy on the floor and is one of the top defensive players in the area. His ability to drive and dish off is a tremendous asset. He can shred a defense with his lighting quick moves.
   Josh Jones provides a nice shooting touch on the inside and is one of the top student athletes in this area. Jones' unselfishness gives the Ranger unit three outstanding seniors.
   The emergence of the junior class has been the key to a 20-win season. Tyler McCann has stepped up his game to an all-time high. McCann is one of the best athletes on the team.
   He has emerged as a scorer and defender, as well as rebounder. His play in the district and regional tournaments was a huge asset toward the Rangers reaching Monday night's sub-state game.
   Derek Cline continues to demonstrate his leadership at point guard. Cline is a good shooter whose quickness and ability to push the ball up floor has resulted in some easy baskets for the Rangers.
   Rusty Holtsclaw is starting to assert himself as a huge force on the inside. The 6'6" junior center threw down 26 against University High and continues to work hard at getting better.
   Chase Reeves jumps like a jackrabbit and has a nice stroke off the wing. Reeves could be the best athlete on the team.
   With a talented sophomore class that features Josh Lowe, who had an outstanding regional tournament, Tee Blevins, Mike Walsh, Aaron Greer, Chris Buckles, and Adam Buckles, the Rangers appear ready to reload for next season.
   Coach Ensor continues to set the bar high for Unaka boys' basketball.
   Wrestling pro Ric Flair once said, "to be the man, you have to beat the man." The same holds true for basketball. To get better, you've got to be willing to test your abilities against better competition. This has been and always will be the trademark for Unaka High School basketball.
   The Rangers will face another stern test against Cosby tonight at 7 p.m. The Eagles are led by point-guard Kevin Hall and senior guard Kent Black.
   Both are good players and shoot the ball well from the outside. Timmy Blakely (6-4 sophomore) has been a big force inside for the Eagles. One coach stated that he might end up being the best to ever play at Cosby.
   The Eagles came in at 24-8 on the season.
   Just a few weeks ago, many gave the Rangers little chance of getting out of the regional tournaments. Some stated that the tough schedule had taken it's toll.
   But a last-second win against Cloudland in the district tournament, followed by another against University High in the regionals have fans rethinking that this might be Unaka's year.
   Monday night, the Unaka boys hope to make history by joining the Lady Rangers in Murfreesboro as participants in this year's 2004 TSSAA Class A State Tournament. For Chambers, Collins and Jones, they have a chance:
   A chance of becoming the only class to participate in two basketball state tournaments at Unaka High School.
   Their last chance at bringing the gold ball back to Stoney Creek.