By Amanda Perkins
With a familiar face taking over the head coaching reins, the Willow Springs Bears are ready to prove themselves as contenders this season.
Ryan Bunch played high school basketball at Willow Springs, then returned to his hometown in a coaching capacity after college. He learned the ropes from veteran Brent Colley, as well as departing coach Mike Mallow, and has spent the last nine years as a junior varsity and freshmen coach at his alma mater.
“It’s a dream come true,” Bunch said of his new role. “I’m extremely excited to be the head coach in my hometown. When I was a sophomore in high school I knew I wanted to become a head basketball coach, and even told Coach Colley I was going to be the head basketball coach after he retired. I guess I was a little late with that prediction.”
Last year, the team went 9-17, losing to Forsyth in the first round of district play. Bunch said he plans to up the ante this season with his load of upperclassmen. “Offensively, we are going to run more sets that are continuous,” he said. In addition to simplifying the offense, the Bears will press their opponents more than in the past. “Defensively, we are going to get after people,” he said.
The Bears have five seniors and seven juniors that will compete for playing time. Senior Ty Durnell will run the point. A skilled ball handler, Ty will also help Willow Springs on defense. Kobe Coatney (6’0,” senior) can score the outside jumper and play multiple positions, scoring nearly 5 points per game last season. Bunch said he can count on senior Ethan Graves (6’1”) “to play hard night in and night out, and he does the little things that don’t show up in the box score.” Six-foot senior Ben Wake is an athletic player who will be especially looked to for ball handling and driving to the basket. He also added almost 5 points per game last season.
Junior Bryce Duddridge (6’2”) holds several Willow Springs records already, and is poised to break the 1,000-point barrier this season. He is clutch from behind the arc or under the basket, sees the floor and rebounds well. Duddridge earned second team all-conference and all-district honors last year, and put up 16.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.5 steals per game. Landon Rodgers (6’1,” junior) “outworks people in the post,” according to his coach, “posts up hard, is very physical, and plays hard.”
He added 9.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game last season. Sam Chaney tallied 6.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game last year, and the 6’3” junior will hone his 15-foot jumper. Rounding out the returning juniors is Ryan Tompkins, who is recovering from an ACL tear and will come back at the first of the year. Tompkins will add depth as a guard and can rebound and shoot from downtown.
New faces for varsity include Hunter Fredrick, a senior inside player, Josh Rutledge, a junior point guard, and Dakota McDaniel, a quick junior who will aid the defense. Michael Cawvey is another junior (6’5”) that will add strength to the Bears’ inside game, despite not playing for two seasons. Sophomore Ryan Cawvey is capable at the point and can shoot, and Trey Talbert (sophomore) is especially talented at guarding the ball.
The Bears lose Tyler Figley, 6’6” forward and honorable mention all-conference player who had an impact on both ends of the floor.
“Our conference is very tough,” said Bunch. “Our goals for the season are to win the conference and district. In order to do this, we have to have good attitudes, come to practice ready to work and get better each and every day. If we do these things, we should be playing our best basketball come districts.”