Entering last season, the Eastern View boys basketball team was relatively unfamiliar with being anywhere other than on-top of its conference.
After all, the Cyclones went 25-2 and won the now-defunct Conference 19 championship in 2016, and they followed that up with a 21-4 mark and another conference title in 2017.
However, a funny thing happened after the Virginia High School League’s realignment plan eliminated conferences prior to the 2017-2018 school year: The Cyclones, now part of the Battlefield District, ran into a perfect storm of challengers with enough talent and experience to challenge them for the district championship last season.
The talent and experience of teams such as Caroline, Courtland and James Monroe, combined with Eastern View’s own lack of experience, proved to be too much for the young Cyclones to overcome. As a result, they finished with a 14-12 record and ended up tied for second place in the district with James Monroe.
“We were pretty young at several spots last year, aside from [now graduated standout D’Ago Hunter],” Eastern View coach Patrick Thornhill said. “Losing him is tough, but he showed the younger guys the right way to do things, and that bodes well for us going forward.”
It would be hard to argue Thornhill’s point. Hunter was the Cyclones’ go-to guy in every critical situation last season, and while he averaged 22 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals per game, the attention he received from opposing defenses was sometimes too much, even for the veteran point guard.
“You don’t just replace a player like D’Ago,” Thornhill said. “It takes two, maybe three guys to replace that kind of talent and production, but we have enough experienced talent this year to hopefully be able to do that and then some.”
While Hunter was Eastern View’s only first-team All-District selection a year ago, the Cyclones do return second-team forward Blake Leake. Thornhill will look to the 6-foot-2 junior to take on an added leadership role this season.
“Blake was big for us last year,” Thornhill said. “He’s tough around the basket, can score from inside and out, and he plays good defense.”
Another junior, Zion Clark, was an honorable mention All-District selection last year. The 6-foot-1 guard will anchor the Cyclones’ backcourt with Hunter now gone.
“Zion’s performance will definitely be a big key to our success or failure [this season],” Thornhill said. “Like [Leake], he’ll need to be ready to help lead the team. We’ll need him to bring high intensity night-in and night-out—especially on defense. We know he can score, but he has to continue to develop defensively as well.”
Junior Alex Spangler and senior Keyshawn Butler both saw action at the guard spots while coming off the bench last season. Thornhill noted that, while the team’s lineup and overall roster has yet to be finalized, those two will figure heavily into Eastern View’s plans once the season does get underway.
Quennell Tyree, a 6-foot-2 senior, rounds out the group of Cyclones returning from last year who saw significant playing time. He’ll form a formidable tandem with Leake at the forward spots.
Eastern View lost what would’ve been it’s sixth returner who played valuable minutes last season, when senior Jalen Veeney transferred across the county to Culpeper County High School during the off-season. Still, Thornhill believes that others who didn’t play as much—or at all—a year ago are now ready to step into bigger roles.
Chris Lephart, a 6-foot-6 forward, has turned heads with his size and development during the off-season. Fellow seniors Sebastian Pullin (6-1) and Lance Greene (6-0) have also improved to a degree that Thornhill believes they can crack the team’s rotation.
The Cyclones have also added seniors Dylan Galenski (6-6) and Donovan Noakes (6-3) to this season’s roster. Both players sat out last season, but are familiar with Eastern View’s system after playing on the junior varsity team two years ago.
“I feel confident that we’ll be able to play a lot of guys this year,” Thornhill said. “We have more depth than we’ve had in a while, which is always a good thing.”
In addition to trying to unseat defending district champion Caroline and hold off the likes of Courtland, James Monroe and Chancellor, the Cyclones will play a tough non-district schedule. Their slate of games features a home-and-home set with defending Class 6 state champion Varina, as well as a home matchup with perennially tough Class 5 Albemarle.
“We like playing a tough schedule,” Thornhill said. “In order to get better, you have to compete against good teams. We like that challenge, and hopefully it enables us to improve and wear less-experienced teams down as the season progresses.”