By: MTN Sports Reporter
Last season the Cascade Champions basketball program was welcoming in a new head coach. Chris Lawson accepted the position to put the program back on the right track in the wake of the former coach leaving abruptly after a poor nine-win season.
Even though he came in during the middle of a pandemic, he immediately started making an impact within the team that would eventually show itself on the court but also re-invigorate the support of the surrounding area as well.
“One of the things that I noticed immediately about this community is that basketball is high on the priority list,” Lawson said, “People are very passionate here about basketball.”
Amid the pandemic last year, attendance restrictions were implemented for most of the season to allow only close family of the players to attend. However, as the regular season neared the end and the postseason loomed in the horizon, TSSAA changed the restrictions to limiting the number of tickets that could be sold relative to the gymnasium’s capacity. This meant that no school was allowed to completely sell out for postseason games, but this didn’t stop the fans from coming to watch.
“As the restrictions loosened a little bit, and as we started to have a little bit of success, it was really neat to see, like you couldn’t really keep people out of the gym,” Lawson said, “We [Cascade] basically would say we had X amount of tickets that we can sell, and then whoever else wanted to sneak in would sneak in to get to watch the game, and we ended up having some really good crowds late.”
As the restrictions lifted, Lawson’s team started elevating their level of play, and started to win more and more.
The Champions last season ended up getting hot and making it all the way to the state sectional round where they traveled up to Clay County and gave the eventual state champions their toughest game of the entire postseason, just falling one point short in an instant classic.
Last year Cascade graduated four seniors, and all four played significant minutes. This season they have one, Justis Carter. It’s a young team in years, but not a young team in game experience, as many of the key contributors on this team started and played big minutes in big games last season. They also have a couple guys taking big leaps from last year that may end up being key contributors.
“Jayden Gulick has definitely stepped up his game,” Carter said. “He’s kind of filled out. He is more of a smaller guard, but he has put on weight, he’s quick, and he holds his own on defense.”
Gulick played sparingly last season due to the people in front of him, and with those people graduating, he has a chance to be an important rotation piece.
“Not just the new faces, but everybody in general, so it’s kind of hard to pick out one or two,” said junior guard Lucas Clanton, “We’ve all been stepping up and playing our game just trying to get better.”
Lucas Clanton will be the starting point guard this season, who Gulick is most likely to back up. Clanton has started his first two seasons at Cascade and is kind of the coach on the floor. He is arguably their most important player besides Carter and looks to build off the success of last season.
“We just have to take it game by game,” Clanton said. “Our end goal is to make state and win it all, but we just have to take it practice by practice, game by game and see how we do.”
Carter echoed those sentiments, while also stressing how important it is to stay focused on the present and just enjoy the process.
“By the end of the season, we could possibly play 10, 11, 12 guys,” Lawson said, expressing his gratitude of just how much his team has improved. “We could go pretty deep as far as our bench, and there are a lot of teams that just don’t have that.”
“If things were to go our way, and we are able to get a couple bounces, we have enough to compete for a state championship,” Lawson continued, “But with that, our goal right now is to actually get to the state tournament, and then we could see what we can do.”
Cascade’s goal of a state tournament appearance isn’t exactly a lofty one. Even though the school has never made it to Murphy Center, they have reached the sectional round eight previous times, and last year was the closest they have ever been to winning in that round.
Before this season, TSSAA reclassified all the schools in the state, adding a fourth classification and shifting many teams up and down the classes. Cascade moved up to 2A for basketball, putting them in a small district with Community, Grundy County, and Forrest.
This means that all four teams automatically qualify for the region tournament, which will be no pushover. Perennial powers East Nashville and Pearl Cohn are just two of the teams that are in Cascade’s new region, and they will not be an easy out.
With the smaller district this season for the Champions, it means they will prepare for the postseason by playing a lot more out of district games. This season, Cascade scheduled a lot of their old district opponents and even local rivals from the past. Home and homes against Shelbyville Central, Moore County, Huntland, Eagleville, and Fayetteville fill out a good portion of the schedule.
It will be interesting to see how this team gels throughout the season and who takes on what roles as the postseason approaches. One thing is for sure though, and it is that Cascade will be making a lot of noise come postseason time. They have probably the best chance in school history to finally break through and make the state tournament, and this is all with one senior and in Lawson’s second year on the job. Cascade basketball is back on the right track, and expect the community to rally behind them once the season begins.
Cascade’s first game is on Tuesday against Hampshire. Their home opener in Wartrace will be on Thursday against Cannon County at 7:30 p.m.