Head coach Walt Cline hopes to bring the Lions back to the state tournament and hang another sectional championship banner before Gilbert High School closes its doors. Gilbert is set to consolidate into the new Mingo Central High School next fall along with Williamson, Burch and Matewan.
“I have an outstanding group of kids, not just players,” Cline said. “It’s a pleasure to coach kids that show respect and play with class. I am fortunate that many of the players have a strong faith in God and as a group our philosophy is all things are capable through Christ.”
The Lions lost four starters from their 2009-10 state tourney team, which downing Huntington St. Joe in the Class A regional tournament championship game at home to make it to Charleston. The only returning starter from last year’s team is Kyle Smith who averaged 14 points per game.
“With all the young inexperienced players it will be a growing process with the transition from junior varsity and middle school,” Cline said. “I am counting on Kyle to provide us with stability inside to allow the younger players to gain experience and grow.”
Coach Cline said Ashton Cline and Jordan Abbott will also be counted on to play larger roles this season and that Trevor Cline, Gabe May, Matt Lester, Cody St. Clair, Joe Tilley, Trevor Abbott, Roger Ellis and Sam Cline will all be stepping up the roles on the team, either as a starter or off the bench.
“We are in the same situation we were my first year with a lack of playing experience,” Cline said. “My first year I started a JV team from the previous year and they had no varsity experience. This season we have one year to play before consolidation, so I will have to change my approach.”
Bub Ellis will return as Cline’s assistant coach making it their third year coaching the high school team and their fifth year as a coaching duo.
Coach Cline said the success Gilbert’s had could not have been accomplished without Ellis.
The Lions tipped off their season last Friday on the road against Mt. View. Gilbert is scheduled to play their first home game of the season on Jan. 7 against Mountain Mission Academy (Va.).
Coach Cline remains optimistic and confident about his squad and plans to “go out every night, play hard and have fun” for the Lions’ last year.
“This will be an emotional season for the Gilbert community as well as the other communities in the county. I hope we can improve as the season progresses and give the community something to cheer about come tournament time,” he said.
Gilbert will once again play in the same Class A sectional with Mingo County rivals Williamson, Burch and Matewan as well as Man and Van.
The Lions are scheduled to get back into action on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. against Calvary Baptist in the Hoops Classic at the Charleston Civic Center. Gilbert then plays Dec. 21 against Belfry (Ky.) in the Phelps (Ky.) Christmas Tournament. The Lions take on East Ridge (Ky.) the following night in the tourney.
Gilbert is then slated to play Dec. 29 in the Belfry Christmas Tournament before the Jan. 7 home opener against Mountain Mission Academy.
The Lions play home-and-home series this season against sectional foes Man, Burch, Matewan and Williamson and are also scheduled to take part in the Big Atlantic Classic Jan. 31-Feb. 3 in Beckley. Gilbert also has two game sets against River View and Mount View.
Gilbert’s last four scheduled games are at home.