JONESBORO — New leaders will have to emerge for the Westside Warriors this winter.
Three-time all-state guard Riley Felkins is gone after averaging 31.4 points per game as a senior. The Warriors also lost 6-4 Kessler Mack off a team that won 20 games and the 4A-3 district tournament before losing in the first round of the East Region tournament.
Felkins, Mack and other 2020 seniors were part of a three-year run where Westside won 69 games. The Warriors reached the Class 4A state championship game in 2018 and played in the state semifinals in 2019 behind four-time all-state guard Avery Felts, now at Arkansas State, and Felkins.
“Over the past few years we’ve lost a lot of really good players. It’s going to be hard to replace them,” said Mark Whitmire, who is entering his 17th season as Westside’s head coach. “We had Kessler and Riley last year, and Avery the year before that. It’s going to look a lot different than what we’ve had in the past, but if we can continue to work, I have seen spots where we are getting better right now.
“Our expectations are high. We expect to continue on with the same tradition we’ve established over the years, but we do realize it’s going to be even harder.”
While Felkins and Mack have graduated, the Warriors return several players who made key contributions in supporting roles last season.
Guard Adonis Thomas, a 6-0 senior, started in the backcourt and scored in double figures several times, including a 15-point outing against Batesville and 13 points against Manila in the Northeast Arkansas Invitational.
Andrew Laird, a 6-2 junior forward, scored 13 points and blocked three shots in the Warriors’ season-ending loss to eStem in the regional tournament. Laird also scored the game-winning basket in a home victory over Valley View and scored a team-high 17 points against Batesville.
Spencer Honeycutt, a 5-10 junior guard, also played an important role last season. Senior forward Ty Wigginton and sophomore guard Tanner Darr are also expected to be in the starting five.
Whitmire said Westside will count on scoring by committee.
“It’s going to have to be a combination of a lot of people. All five who are on the floor are going to have to contribute a lot more than what they have in the past few years,” Whitmire said. “To say we’re going to have someone who gets 30 a night like what Riley did last year, that’s probably not going to happen. I think we can get everyone contributing, and they understand that.”
Westside’s rotation also figures to include senior guard Kirk Busch, junior guard Jackson Wolf, junior guard/forward Lukas Kaffka and junior guard Braxton Timms.
Whitmire said the Warriors should have more players to contribute in different situations.
“I think we can really play hard the whole time we’re out there and the depth that I think we’re going to have, that’s what I’m really looking to as our strength,” Whitmire said. “Not that we can’t shoot the ball, we can shoot it OK, but the main thing I’ve been preaching is trying to get them to play hard because I feel like that would be our biggest strength, the hustle factor and just getting after it.”
Whitmire lists Valley View, Blytheville and Brookland as the favorites in the 4A-3, adding that the Blazers have an X-factor with 6-9 CJ Delancy in the middle.
“We’re going to be kind of young and we might have a few growing pains through that, too, but we hope to give ourselves a chance at the end and that’s what I keep preaching to them,” Whitmire said. “We’re going to be a different team by the time we get to district tournament than we are when we start.”