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A strong finish to the pre-holiday schedule gave Zion Chapel’s boys basketball team something it hasn’t had in a while — optimism.

The Rebels finished the first semester of play at 6-9, but closed out with victories over Elba, McKenzie and Red Level.

“We put some good wins together,” Zion Chapel head coach Jared Robison said. “We have a nice mixture of some good senior leadership and a really good, young group that moved up from my B team last year. They’re really beginning to gel and work together.”

Robison said one of the nice surprises is the progress the Rebels have made on the defensive end.

“That has really played a huge role in helping us win those really tough games,” the coach said. “We’ve won in a lot of different ways — some have been come from behind, some have been hanging on to a lead. It’s been our defense that helped us be able to get through those.”

Three seniors have helped provide a good example for some talented younger players, led by Nate Grantham.

“He has played for me the past few years,” Robison said. “He’s a very even-keeled young man — doesn’t get too high or too low, just stays very steady. That steady attitude is always there. His kind of attitude, especially in the Elba game (a 43-42 victory) where we were down and came back, showed us, ‘Hey, we’re never out of it. We can always find a way to win.’ That’s a really, really good quality to have.”

Billy Heap is another senior who has contributed on the offensive end, both as a starter and coming off the bench.

“He’s played a lot of different roles and is having a great senior season,” Robison said.

The coach said senior Joey McCrory “has a motor like nobody else I’ve ever coached.”

“He may not score 10, 20 points every night, but he’s going to get you a bunch of rebounds and make all the hustle plays,” Robison added. “Those guys have truly led us in that senior role.”

But there are talented underclassmen who have contributed.

“The guy who facilitates a lot for us is a junior, Bryce Watson, my starting point guard,” the coach said. “He does a great job, very confident in getting us in our offenses and making sure we’re doing the things that we need to do.

“Sophomore Brady Cobb is a starter and is one of our more lethal shooters. He has the potential to get hot at any moment. He’s had multiple 18-point games and has played a big role.”

Zion Chapel is a tough matchup because of its inside players.

“Connor Kelley is a junior and he’s been a great presence,” Robison said. “We’ve got a 6-foot-6 kid, Micheal McDaniel, who is a sophomore and he’s started some and come off the bench some.

“We’ve got some good length and some guys who can shoot on the outside, which makes us hard to defend. That’s made a huge difference for us.”

The coach also said several others have been good role players who have stepped up and grown into their own.

The season resumes Jan. 7 with an area game at Samson.

“Our area is a tough one and is a good one,” the coach said. “Goshen, New Brockton and Samson and are all well-coached teams and always great competition. We’d like to see that momentum we took into the break carry through into area play. We want to kind of stay focused and build on what we’ve done.”

Robison said the Rebels are eager to take a big step forward.

“We feel like we’ve got a team this year that hopefully can accomplish some things this year that haven’t been done in a long time at Zion Chapel,” the coach said. “We’re definitely going to have to work hard for it. It’s not going to come easy.”

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