Valley boys confident revamped roster can extend playoff streak

Monday, December 2, 2019 | 7:50 PM

With playoff trips in each of the past three seasons, Valley boys basketball has built some consistency. Enough, the Vikings think, that a fourth trip can happen even with some roster turnover.

Valley enters the new season with a good mix of experience and new blood in the starting lineup, and coach Mark Faulx sees promise and steady improvement as the start of the season approaches.

“I really like the makeup of our team. We’ve got seniors who are really going to help us in Jalil Johnson and Vaun Ross, and a junior class that is going to be our biggest group of varsity players,” Faulx said. “I’m excited to see that junior class really expand their roles, and then we have a couple of sophomores I think are going to help us.”

Two of the players with the most experience coming back for the Vikings are in that junior class, 6-foot-3 guard/forward Elijah Murray and 6-1 forward Adisun Jackson. Along with 6-1 senior Johnson, who played significant minutes a year ago, the Vikings have an athletic and battle-tested front line that was part of the team that went 8-11 overall but 8-4 in Section 3-3A last season.

“We’re always trying to make the playoffs. That’s our goal, especially in our section, which is pretty competitive,” Murray said. “With the seniors leaving, we’ve got a lot of young guys looking forward to playing big roles. They’re less experienced, but they’re hungry for the challenge.”

Murray is a player the Vikings expect to fill the stat sheet in most every category, Faulx said, and the junior is doing his best to help bring along the young supporting cast.

Along with Ross, a 5-10 senior, the Vikings backcourt includes experienced 5-11 junior Thomas Albert. Fellow junior Javon Keys should also be in the rotation, and sophomores Ben Aftanas and B.J. Harvey are positioned to contribute as well.

That depth, coupled with the ability to handle the ball at both the guard and forward positions, is an advantage the Vikings hope to exploit.

“The potential we have to share the ball and create shots for one another is something that will be critical for this team,” Faulx said. “I like how that’s developing, and I think that’s going to be one of our core team pillars. I really want us to be able to create shots for others.”

The willingness to create and play off each other’s strengths won’t be a problem, according to Murray, who sees his teammates being on the same page early in the year.

“I think something that sets us apart from our other teams in the past is that we’re really united,” Murray said. “Anything that happens on the floor, good or bad, we try to build off of it and really work together.”

That unity gives the Vikings optimism that a strong start is possible, but last year showed that starting off hot isn’t necessary.

Valley began last season 2-5, with all five losses coming to opponents from higher classifications, but those tests set the team up for success in January and February. With a largely new lineup this season, the Vikings again seem poised to be a team that will get stronger as the calendar flips over.

“That’s something you’re hopeful for with any team — constant development and positive growth,” Faulx said. “That’s really the emphasis for me, is to try and make every opportunity a chance to get better and see where that takes us.”

“Coach always stresses that every day is a day to get better,” Murray said. “Each day we’re in the gym, we’re just looking to improve.”

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.


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