Chelsea finding strength in numbers and striving for improvement in year two in 7A

Published 4:25 pm Thursday, November 2, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

Not many teams can say they both lost a lot and are returning a lot, but the Chelsea Hornets aren’t most teams.

The Hornets have a veteran roster loaded with players ready to step up, which they will need after losing multiple key pieces, including leading scorer Paul Lanzi, now at Auburn-Montgomery.

Chelsea head coach Nicholas Baumbaugh is confident that multiple players chipping in a little but more will help fill those big shoes.

“Instead of having one guy step up and try to do what Paul has done, we’ve talked about, ‘hey, I need you to chip in three or four more points this year,’” Baumbaugh said. “And if we can collectively do that, we’ll make up what we lost in Paul this past year.”

While the Hornets lost their entire starting backcourt and many of their guards, they have their entire lineup of post players returning, including Jonathan Laughlin, Jaxon Shuttlesworth, Romello Cooper and Christen Whetstone. Those players are part of the nine seniors that make up an experienced core returning this year.

One of those senior contributors is power forward Avery Futch, who led the team in three-point percentage last week but has a new additional role as an aggressor in the post.

Baumbaugh says that Futch does a good job at getting around people, but if he can score through that or get to the free-throw line, he has made shots from the line at a high-enough rate to be very effective.

Baumbaugh firmly believes that if he is a focal point of the offense, he can be as dominant down low as Daniel Washington was and even more versatile. For his part, Futch is up to the challenge.

“I feel my confidence is still pretty high being a three-year starter,” Futch said. “But I feel like what I’m looking forward to doing more is being more aggressive getting the free throw line, helping my team out more, because I feel like I’m a great free throw shooter.”

Gavin Collett will be another important senior leader for the Hornets this season. His job, along with the other seniors, will be to pick up other players and keep confidence high.

He noted that the Hornets have a lot of different playstyles, which helps make Chelsea more versatile and prepared for many kinds of opponents.

“We’ve got a lot of different players,” Collett said. “Everybody has different playstyles, so going against different competition every day definitely makes us better going into the season.”

As for the team’s overall playstyle, Baumbaugh expects the Hornets to continue to press the tempo on misses on both offense and defense. Instead of limiting his play-calling to a 1-2-2 press like last year, he hopes to use the team’s height to their advantage with more full court presses.

Their goal is to create turnovers and score in transition after putting emphasis on that during the summer, but even if they can’t get the transition to work, the Hornets can still run a control-style offense off of makes.

Overall, the camaraderie between the teammates is very strong, which Baumbaugh said makes everything more fun and positive. Both Futch and Collett spoke about their desire to make memories and forge bonds with their teammates.

That strong bond also raises expectations for how far Chelsea believes it can go this season. Baumbaugh noted that the Hornets have rarely gotten out of the area in the history of their program, but in an area with four evenly matched teams in Oak Mountain, Spain Park, Hewitt-Trussville and the Hornets, he and the players like their chances.

We’ve had success in basketball, but it hasn’t always been leading to getting out of the area, and for us, that’s such a big deal,” Baumbaugh said. “We’ve only been out of the area three times in the history of the school, and so, that’s ultimately our goal. We know it’s not easy.”

It may not be easy, but Chelsea certainly believes their goals are achievable.