NAUGATUCK — A couple of standout freshmen played in prominent roles last year for Tug Valley’s boys basketball team as the Panthers made yet another state tournament appearance.
Tug Valley ended the year with a 46-42 quarterfinal loss to No. 5 Williamstown, finishing at 17-7 overall. In the offseason, head coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson left for the same position at Mingo Central, opening the door for Edwyn May to step in at Tug Valley.
And so far, so good for the first year head coach as the Panthers entered this week 12-3 overall behind senior returning starter Calvin Blankenship and now-sophomores Jeremy Dillon and the coach’s son, Tyler May, among others.
Five of Tug Valley’s eight leading players this season are just sophomores, including Blankenship’s younger brother, Jon.
“They surprised a lot of people last year,” May said. “Going into last year, nobody really knew how good some of those young guys were. So, coming into this year, I expected us to be good. I’ve coached the sophomore class at different levels ever since they were younger. They were kind of used to me to begin with, so there hasn’t been as much transition as you would think.”
May’s team has been thoroughly tested throughout the season, splitting a pair of games with Class A contender St. Joseph Central, beating Class AAA opponent Hurricane and falling by eight to AAA George Washington. A critical win, which could impact potential state tournament seeding, came on the road over Notre Dame back in December. It’s Notre Dame’s lone loss so far on the year.
Another huge matchup was scheduled for Wednesday as the Panthers were set to face defending Class A state champion Magnolia at the Charleston Civic Center, weather permitting.
“It’s been really tough. The schedule was done before I got the job,” May said. “But the biggest thing with our kids is that they compete – they compete against everybody, especially if it’s a big game. They’ve always stepped up against bigger and better competition. They believe in themselves and they’re just competitors who play for each other. When we play big games, I don’t worry about our kids.
“I worry about our kids when we play games that they may take a night off because they don’t think they’re so good. But when we play games against a team they think could beat us, they usually bring their best.”
It’s a deep field overall in Class A this year, which makes that game against Magnolia even more important for both teams trying to secure a decent seed when it comes time for tournament play.
“I think Class A is as competitive as any class,” May said. “You have Notre Dame, Magnolia, us, Trinity, St. Joe, Wheeling Central — and I’m leaving several teams out. Those are all great teams. Those teams can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the state and it’s tough night-in and night-out.”