As they begin varsity play, the Tigers enter Region 7-2A looking for positives amid a season expected to be used for growth.
“The good thing about coaching this team is the expectations are not high,” Morris Innovative coach Doug Peters said. “Anything we do is a positive.”
Peters replaces Eric Williams as the team’s coach after two years as a boys assistant and the girls head coach. The Lady Tigers will play a second year of junior varsity with Ric Murry coaching.
For the boys, the roster is thin at 10 players and “four or five” returning from last year’s team with playing experience, Peters said.
“Then we have some who have never stepped on the floor,” he added.
Morris Innovative will showcase two experienced guards in senior Russell Burse and sophomore Justin Scott. Tevin Robertson, another senior, will play one of the forward positions, while junior Markeeze Suggs will handle the other.
Last season, the Tigers finished 7-11 playing JV teams.
“A lot of these guys would never have this experience anywhere else,” Peters said. “We have a couple who could play at Dalton or somewhere else, but a lot wouldn’t have that opportunity. They wouldn’t make the team. So we give them that opportunity, and that is special.”
The Tigers, who will play home games at their school’s gymnasium, open the season Nov. 25 in Sonoraville High School’s tournament.
After failing to make the Class 2A state playoffs with a senior-heavy roster last season, the Indians are young again.
Murray County graduated eight seniors — including the entire starting lineup — after a 13-13 showing and will rely on fresh faces with hopes of making the state playoffs for the first time since 2010-2011.
Three seniors — Cesar Romero, a 6-2 post, and guards Jagger Childers and Nick Stiles — all played bench roles last season. So did juniors David Bennett, a 6-3 post, and point guard Alex Hicks. Sam Lanier, a transfer from Christian Heritage, is another junior guard.
“He’s really quick,” Murray County coach Greg Linder said of Lanier. “He’s still in the learning stages of offense and defense, but we feel he’ll be able to help us down the road.”
The rest of Murray County’s roster is made up of sophomores and freshmen, but Linder still feels this team could thrive once the Region 7-2A tournament comes.
“By the end of the year in region tournament time, we expect to be competing,” said Linder, who enters his ninth season coaching the Indians. “We know some sophomores will have to play. We just don’t know who yet.”
The Lady Indians’ situation is opposite that of the boys’. Girls coach Michael Hill has an experience-laden team hoping to make a postseason run.
Murray County finished 9-18 last year but returns its entire roster, which had zero seniors.
“We have pretty good chemistry,” said Hill, who begins his fourth season coaching the program. “Right now, we’re just focused on depth.”
The Lady Indians have three seniors — 5-9 post Caitlyn Sims, 5-7 post Holly Stanfield and point guard McKenzie Carroll. Guards Kaitlyn Richardson, Shea Pendley and Alex Johnson are juniors, while sophomore Aubrie Osborne is another guard.
“I’m expecting with some good senior leadership that we’ll be real competitive,” Hill said. “Our goal is always to make the state playoffs.”
In the region race, Hill labeled Calhoun and Model as the top teams in the league while Armuchee also should challenge for a spot at state.
“We have a lot of the big things worked out already. We’re working on the smaller details.”
Murray County’s season opens Friday at Gilmer.