Division: NCAA Division III
Coach: Ben Thompson (first season)
Last season: 17-10, 9-7. Lost to Guilford in quarterfinals of ODAC tournament
Key returners: Colin Molden, G, sr.
Key losses: Daniel Spencer (18.3 ppg. 6.6 rebounds per game); Tharon Suggs (16.1 ppg.); Jarris Hendricks (12.0 ppg.); Alic Wynn (11.6 ppg., 11.4 rpg.)
Promising newcomers: Dylan Catron, F, fr.; Robert Holliday, G, sr.; Malcolm Morgan, G, fr.
Outlook: Thompson spent the past three seasons as the head coach at NCAA Division III State University of New York at Canton in New York.
He received an early motivational boost on Oct. 24 when the Wasps were picked to tie for 10th in the ODAC preseason poll.
“Oh yeah, our players know everything about that poll,” Thompson said. “We discussed it as a team and we’ve got a copy posted in our locker room. Our guys have a chip on their shoulders from that.”
Thompson didn’t offer specifics about a starting lineup, but Molden will be the director.
The 6-foot guard from Apex, North Carolina, played in just nine games last year because of a knee injury but averaged 14 points and 3.3 assists. Molden has adapted well to the up-tempo offense favored by Thompson
“Colin enjoy enjoys our style of play, and a lot of the other guys have bought in because of Colin’s willingness to do whatever needs to be done,” Thompson said.
Just how quick will the new E&H offense be?
“It will be kind of an NBA system,” Thompson said. “We want a really fast brand of basketball that will be fun for our kids, students and fans.”
Holliday, a 6-5 guard from Kansas City, led SUNY Canton in scoring last season with nearly 15 points per game.
“Robert is a versatile and skilled player who can play four positions,” Thompson said. “Colin and Robert have a chance to be all-conference, but it will be hard for teams to just key on those two.”
Spencer and Suggs, who were first and second-team All-ODAC picks last season, are now playing at ODAC rivals. Spencer is at Virginia Wesleyan and Suggs is at Lynchburg.
E&H must also replace Wynn, a 6-6 leaper who collected over 1,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds.
Junior guard Dylan Felty (4.1 ppg.) returned along with senior guard Jamie Clarke and sophomore guards Jordan Grant (4.1 ppg.), Jake Martin and Anthony Williams.
“We have a lot of talented pieces, and our team chemistry has been unbelievable,” Thompson said.
The Wasps have the flexibility to employ various size combinations.
“I normally don’t rely on a set starting lineup,” Thompson said. “A lot depends on practice, games and our efficiency chart.”
The 6-8 Catron (Chilhowie) has earned positive reviews in practice. The 6-3 Morgan (Concord, N.C.) will be a factor in the backcourt, while 6-4 forward Chris Swann (Eastside) is among the newcomers.
Over the past four seasons under coach David Willson, the Wasps won more games (75) than any other period in the last 25 years when famed coach Bob Johnson led the Wasps. Willson, who coached E&H for a total of six years, is now the head boys coach at Memphis University School.
‘It’s surreal and humbling to be the head coach of this program,” Thompson said. “Coach Johnson was a staple in the ODAC and around the nation. I’ve been able to meet with Coach Johnson’s family and it was neat to have their blessing.”
Thompson will be joined on the bench by his father, longtime far Southwest Virginia hoops coach Rick Thompson.
“The ODAC is the ACC of Division III basketball,” Ben Thompson said. “There are so many good coaches and players in this league, so you really have to grind.”
The younger Thompson has already made one prediction for the ODAC
“We’re not going to finish 10th, I can tell you that,” Thompson said.
E&H opens the season Saturday afternoon at 2 against Keystone, a Division III program from La Plume, Pennsylvania
Division: NCAA Division III
Coach: Jaclyn Dickens (first season)
Last season: 22-4, 15-3. Lost to Roanoke in quarterfinals of ODAC tournament
Key returners: Sydney McKinney, F, sr.; Peyton Williams, F, sr.; Kara Stafford, F, sr.
Key losses: Taylor Blevins (13.0 ppg., 6.4 rpg.); Chloe Harris (5.9 ppg.)
Promising newcomers: Claudia Frost, G, fr.; Brylee Jones, G, fr.
Outlook: Emory & Henry fans will not need in introduction to Dickens
The Galax native played basketball at E&H, graduating in 1999. A former head coach at Virginia Intermont, Dickens spent the past five years as an assistant under former head coach and current E&H athletic director Anne Crutchfield.
“We have a special group of 11 returning players, so the transition was smooth,” Dickens said.
Under Crutchfield, the Wasps charged to at least the ODAC tournament semifinals in four of the past five seasons and advanced to the second round of the 2018 Division III national tournament. E&H earned 83 wins over the past four years.
Dickens must replace six seniors, including three full-time starters.
“We have some players who have waited their turn, and we have three seniors who can do great things,” Dickens said.
The 5-10 McKinney averaged 12 points and 5.9 rebounds last season while supplying 19 blocks and clever passing.
“I don’t think people realize just how good Sydney is,” Dickens said. “She can shoot from the outside and score inside. She’s also a ballhandler, passer and competitive. Teams will focus on Sydney now that Taylor is gone.”
The 6-1 Blevins, a former Abingdon standout, joined Crutchfield as the only E&H player to earn All-ODAC honors four times and finished among the top four in E&H career scoring, rebounding, field goals and field goal percentage.
Williams, a 5-10 guard from Northwood, earned third-team All-ODAC honors last season after averaging 6.9 points while adding 54 assists and 37 steals.
“The strongpoint for Peyton is versatility,” Dickens said. “She’s aggressive on defense, and now she will need to show more on offense.”
The 5-9 Stafford (Sullivan East) supplied 4.7 ppg. last season and shot 76 percent from the free throw line,
“It will be up to players like Kara and Peyton to step up and draw the defensive pressure away from Sydney,” Dickens said.
Look for 5-5 junior Kylea Cooper (Hickory, N.C.) to work at point guard after taking over the spot at the end of last season. Elizabeth Jones, a 5-10 junior from Wytheville, will be the fifth starter.
“Cooper played behind a senior most of last season, and she’s looking forward to running the team now,” Dickens said.
Height and unselfishness are team strengths.
“We’ve been good at sharing the ball over the past few season and w want to continue to average around 15 assists,” Dickens said
The Wasps bonded with their new coach during a 12-day trip to Portugal in early August.
“That was a great chance to face quality competition and get closer as team,” Dickens said. “Coach Crutchfield was really good about letting me have input, so the players already now my voice and what to expect.”
E&H finished in a tie for fifth in the ODAC preseason poll. The Wasps open the season at home tonight at 6 against Averett.
“Time has gone by fast since I was named head coach in April, but it’s been fun. We’re ready,” Dickens said.