The Calhoun Yellow Jackets begin the 2019-2020 season looking to capture their seventh region title in eight years. To do that, they’ll need to take back Region Six in their final year in Class AAA.
“We’ve had a great preseason,” Yellow Jackets head coach Vince Layson said. “We’ve had a lot of guys buy in to what we do. Off the court, we’ve had a great preseason workout-wise. I think I’ve had more participation than I’ve ever had in that, so I’m extremely excited.”
Last season, North Murray snapped Calhoun’s six-year region title streak with a 56-51 win in the Region 6-AAA championship game. Since then, Layson said there’s been a “sting” from last February’s result.
“We typically don’t start fall workouts until after Labor Day,” Layson said. “They were knocking on my door the first day of school wanting to get into the gym to get some workouts in and get in the weight room.”
While Calhoun saw the departure of 6-foot-6 senior power forward Davis Allen, this year’s Yellow Jacket varsity roster will feature six seniors. Walt McKenzie and Jake Prather will represent the junior class.
Layson said he played a lot of underclassmen last season, so there are several returning starters to the lineup.
“We’ve got a lot of experience coming back, so I’m excited about it,” Layson said. “The learning curve has gone away for some of them because they know what I expect of them and they know what they’re going to get on the court playing these other teams.”
Layson noted he expects his sophomores on the team to provide some valuable minutes as well.
“Several of those sophomores played last year as freshman,” Layson said. “Peyton Law ... he had a great summer with us, he’s grown. He should be able to help us big time on the perimeter. Jaylan Harris ... started several games last year. Long-range kid; he’ll give us good minutes.”
Layson said the biggest improvement from the conclusion of the 2018-19 season to now has been in the weight room and a greater sense of “moxie.”
“A lot of guys have put on muscle, gotten more athletic,” Layson said. “Going into last year, we had won six straight region championships, and so they had a lot of pressure on their shoulders. They were playing not to lose versus playing to win and I think this year, they’ve kind of learned that you don’t play that way.”
To get back to the top, Layson said two areas of Calhoun’s game he’s looking for improvement in defense and rebounding.
“Last year, we played more zone than we’ve ever played since I’ve been the head coach here,” Layson said. “I’m not a zone person. (We) played very timid on defense (last season). We didn’t actually get out and let our athletes be athletes and I think we need to get back to that this year.”
Layson said he characterizes his squad as transitional that plays north/south and has the ability for fast breaks.
“We want to use our athleticism (and) wear the other team down,” Layson said. “(We want them to) have in the back of their mind the whole time, while they’re on offense, they know that we’re about to be coming at you really fast the other way.”
Layson said the majority of production will come from senior guards Gage Maffetone and Caleb Boone.
“We’ve centered our offense around those two guys,” Layson said. “Both of them have received offers to play at the D-III level so far. They can shoot it from outside, they can drive it, they can do it all. When you piece together a couple of guys like Peyton Law (and) Jaylan Harris, they’re kind of going to be the beneficiaries of when other teams are so focused on (Maffetone and Boone, they) will be able to find those guys and make them, in turn, better players.”
Region 6-AAA consists of nine teams, with several poised to give North Murray a battle for the title of region champions in the final year before realignment. For Calhoun, the pressure gauge seems to have shifted.
“I think now that North Murray knocked us off last year, I think we’ll be able to play more freely and probably a little bit more focus and determination,” Layson said. “They want to get it back, so I think they’ll fight a little bit harder.”