CLOVER -- With preliminary games winding down, the Clover High School basketball teams are about to embark on the part of the season that really counts.
Both the girls and boys varsity teams play at Hunter Huss Friday and host Rock Hill Wednesday before opening Region 3-AAAA play Jan. 9 at home against Fort Mill.
All three games begin with varsity girls action at 6:30 p.m. followed by the boys game at 8 p.m.
With two more non-region games to play, Blue Eagle head coach Dudley Lybrand looks for a different mindset once region play begins.
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"Our first region game is the most important game of the season," observed Lybrand. "We want to win as many games as we can the first round of region play, so we won't have to face 'must' wins the second round.
"It is important to remain focused and take the games one at a time."
Senior mainstays Chris Lindsay and Alexander Wiley know what it takes to contend for honors in region play.
"A key to success for our team is to execute the offense like we do in practice," noted Lindsay. "We have to rebound and box out the way we've been taught."
Lindsay knows as a senior member of the team he is in a position to influence the less experienced players.
"I feel it's up to the seniors to make sure the younger players know that region play is a new season," he said. "We have to be ready as a team every game."
Wiley, too, understands the importance of senior leadership.
"I talk to the players when there's a need," he said.
Wiley is using a fifth-place preseason prediction in the region as motivation for the Blue Eagles.
"We want to prove that we can play with the top teams," he added.
With the CHS boys facing a height disadvantage in most games, Wiley said rebounding on both ends of the floor is crucial to the team's success.
"We also need to make free throws," he said. "Most teams struggle with free throws at some time in the season. It's a big part of the game."
Lybrand said it's feasible the Blue Eagles could make the playoffs competing in a strong region.
The CHS coach noted that Fort Mill has won the region title the last two years and expects the Yellow Jackets to contend this season.
Said Lybrand, "Northwestern will be strong, Gaffney pushes the ball up the floor and York has three players that can score 20-plus points a game."
CHS girls primed for region run
Lady Blue Eagles coach Mike Pearson approaches region play mindful of the game-to-game challenges and optimistic about the CHS girls' potential.
"Our No. 1 goal is to win the region and advance to the playoffs," he said. "We know there will be obstacles along the way, but those are our goals."
Pearson expects the region to be strong again this season, with Northwestern and York among the leaders.
"Nation Ford and Fort Mill will be tough games and Gaffney is an unknown," he said.
Senior post player Stephanie Dover, a preseason all-region selection, said the key to success is total team play, with no individual play.
"We're adjusting to a new offense," she said. "We need to make smart decisions and have good ball movement."
Dover finds herself in a leadership role her final season at CHS.
"I try to provide leadership," commented Dover. "Some of our players want to know what to do. I help them along the way."
Senior teammate Iesha Wade knows the value of senior leadership.
"I try to keep everybody thinking positive," she said.
Wade said the key to meeting the challenges of region play is to play good defense and be patient on offense.
She believes the Lady Blue Eagles will be a presence in region play.
"If we play as a unit, we'll make a lot of noise in the region," declared Wade. "I want to do my part to help the team as much as I can."
Dover believes the CHS girls can contend for region honors and make the playoffs.
She expects more of herself when region play begins against Fort Mill.
"I need to be more aggressive on the court and be a team leader," she said.
Pearson wants to win against Hunter Huss and Rock Hill but said the games prior to Jan. 9 are tune-ups for region play.
"Our kids know what needs to be done," assured the CHS coach. "They know that region play is what it's all about.
"We have a great group of seniors and will continue to work hard to improve as a team."
After the region opener Jan. 9, both CHS teams will play consecutive road games at Northwestern, Nation Ford and York before returning home for a Jan. 27 region game with Gaffney.