For the Clay City Eels, the question 'what if?' has been prevalent from beginning to end during this basketball season.
After graduating six seniors from last season's talented crew of hoopsters who advanced to the sectional semifinal during a 16-7 campaign, the Eels needed to replace all five starters. Returning for the 2004-05 season were seniors Kyle Romas, T.L. Roeschlein, Klay Knox and Brock Dyer along with junior Josey Vansickle and talented sophomores Garrett Thatcher, Stephen Johnson and Dustin Griffith.
The talent was there for the Eels though the varsity experience might not have been. Johnson, Dyer and Thatcher, all taller than six feet, gave the Eels size to go along with outside shooters like Romas and Vansickle who could open up the interior. Roeschlein and Vansickle had shown flashes of being able to create opportunities for themselves and teammates along with Johnson. So the offseason was spent in molding the group into a cohesive unit who could take the floor and join the battle for a Tri-River or Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference title leading up to the state tourney.
But then all the best laid plans began to be derailed by the dreaded injury bug.
Potential starters Johnson (knee) and Romas (arm) went down injuries and would be lost for extensive time before the season even got underway. But the Eels bonded together and battled as a team. Even when their bench was basically shortened to two, and at times, one, Clay City continued to play teams tough. Though Clay City dropped their first round sectional contest to complete a 9-13 season, a closer look shows that the Eels lost six games by five or fewer points, a statistic that shows how close the Eels were to a big year.
Seniors, Dyer, Knox, Roeschlein and Romas may have ended their career a bit prematurely, but coach Grant McVay spoke about how much each player gave to the squad.
"(Brock) Dyer is a pretty versatile scorer and he's strong enough to score inside and shoot outside when he gets his feet set," commented McVay. "Klay Knox is a kid who really represents the good side of high school athletics. He works hard and you really respect that in him. I've really enjoyed being around him for four years."
Both starters added different elements to the Eels with Knox starting at guard and providing a steady influence with his ball handling and distribution. Dyer gave the Eels the ability to bang inside for points in the paint and also could knock down the 3-pointer as he showed with an eight 3-pointer performance, including the game-winner against Turkey Run.
Roeschlein led the squad in rebounds with more than seven per game and provided a wealth of energy and hustles for the Eels. "I don't think in five years we've had someone with the boundless energy (Roeschlein) has," said McVay. "Without (the energy) we would have been in a world of hurt. He just plays so hard."
For Romas, the season was derailed by a pair of injuries that limited him to just a couple of games this year.
"You just have to feel bad for the circumstances (Romas) has had to deal with," said McVay. "Unfortunately people didn't get a chance to see him shoot the ball. My heart goes out to the kid since he hasn't been able to play."
Though the Eels fell just short of completing their fourth straight double-digit win season, Clay City's players have nothing to be ashamed of this year. Their effort, determination and hustle made everyone who saw them proud.