There were times last night when Gar-Field senior Aaron Andrews was so bursting with glee he did not know what to do. After a dunk two minutes into the game served notice that Andrews indeed was all the way back from the wrist and foot injuries that sidelined him last season, he let out a hardy whoop that sounded like a neglected tea kettle with the fire on high.
Better yet for the Indians, who breezed to a 62-29 win at North Stafford in both teams' season openers, a healthy Andrews, with 14 points and seven rebounds, was by no means the only highlight.
Sturdy junior forward David Hooper scored 16 points, four on offensive rebounds after teammates' missed free throws. Junior point guard Q.J. Melchior, who came off the bench in place of sophomore Ryan Smith just a few minutes into the game, had 11 points, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals. Three other players scored six or more points apiece.
The Indians are accustomed to seeing Hooper, Melchior and company in good health. Seeing Andrews not wearing some sort of cast was the real treat.
"It helps a little bit, doesn't it?" Gar-Field Coach Andy Gray said of the 6-foot-5 forward's return.
"I was just so excited to be back on the court," said Andrews, who scored the Indians' first point of the season after being fouled on a shot after a steal. "It just felt good. I'm a little out of shape, but I think we played well together."
Because the Indians have just three seniors, none of whom was a major component last season, Gray paints Gar-Field as a young team. But the Cardinal District might not perceive that relative youth as inexperience because Hooper and Melchior stood out as sophomores and junior big men Kevin Hunter and Kevin Moore also played on the varsity at 10th-graders. In fact, all but four of the current Indians were on the team last year.
"I'm more concerned about our guard play right now, about reading defenses and attacking at the right times and about our shot selection," Gray said. "Things everybody's worried about right now."
Gar-Field need not worry about the solid Hooper, who sank eight of 12 shots, most of them inside, but with a couple of jumpers thrown in, and grabbed seven rebounds.
"He got some rebounds in traffic and turned them into baskets," Gray said. "If it had been somebody not as strong as David, it would have been a jump ball or a turnover, or they would have gotten possession."
Gar-Field forced 25 turnovers, 16 in the first half, during which time the Indians outrebounded North Stafford, 10-1, offensively. For the game, the difference was 16-3.
Senior guard Kyle Skewes led the Wolverines with 10 points, all in the first half. The loss marked the debut of North Stafford Coach Tripp Burton, a graduate of the school.
Gar-Field next plays at Courtland, site of their Northwestern Region semifinal loss last season. Courtland buried a three-pointer at the buzzer to pull out a one-point win and earn a Virginia AAA state tournament berth.
"We'll try to exorcise some demons," Gray said. "But like one of the kids said, that's in the past. They're a whole new team, and we're a whole new team."