The 2018-19 boys basketball season for Webster County was a run for the ages.
The Highlanders were undefeated in 28 games that year and the historic season culminated with a win over Parkersburg Catholic in the championship game.
Front and center to witness the exploits of players like Tyler Gray, Pryce Gadd, Cole Taylor, Drew Holcomb and Dorian Groggs was a young freshman who is lighting up the scoreboard this year like a Christmas tree.
After dropping 42 points in a loss at Class A No. 1 Greater Beckley Christian on Dec. 18, Rye Gadd scored 51 points, including four dunks in a Dec. 23 win over Doddridge County.
Both performances were milestone efforts by the senior standout.
In the Greater Beckley game, Gadd went over 1,000 points for his career. The 51-point output broke the Webster County boys single game scoring record previously held by another Highlanders standout, Brett Morris.
“Rye is really solid and his body has gotten bigger this year. Rye is a strong, physical player. He is shooting the ball better this year with even more range,” Highlanders head coach Mike Gray said. “He is a good Christian kid who is going down the right path and doing the right things.”
The influence of the seniors from that championship team cannot be understated when it come to Gadd’s development as an all-state player and prolific scorer.
“My brother, (Pryce), was on that championship team and he was a big basketball guy. We played outside the house and I played with him and his friends,” Gadd said. “They were older, so they kinda beat me around. When I played against my age group though, I was pretty good, so I just kept playing.”
Instead of getting upset with the physical play at a young age, Gadd was determined to get better. It is a trait that he has carried through high school, constantly facing two or three defenders at a time.
“Getting beat up, at first I was missing open shots. I didn’t want to miss those shots and I wanted to be able to attack the rim, take a hit and finish at the rim,” Gadd said. “You couldn’t take a day off playing against those seven seniors. You would get demolished if you did. Since then I have really worked to try and be great.”
Battling the older players also showed Gadd he had to get bigger and physically stronger. That fact and Gadd’s relentless work ethic were a recipe for success.
“He could still shoot the ball as a freshman, but he really didn’t have any strength. He couldn’t get himself open the way he can now,” Gray said. “His whole game has really come together now. He can do just about whatever he wants on the court. It has to be the right guy to match up with him.”
Although he played some football and baseball at a younger age, Gadd has been all basketball since seventh-grade and heavy into AAU basketball.
This past off-season, Gadd played AAU basketball with Greater Beckley Christian all-state guard Kaden Smallwood.
“We always talked on the court when we were freshmen and sophomores and we have always liked each others game,” Smallwood said. “We knew our senior year would be a big year and we had to keep working. Sophomore summer is when we really started connecting.”
Part of that connection involved Gadd coming to Beckley to workout with Smallwood and other the Crusader players over the summer.
“I worked out down there a lot and Kaden and me played AAU together. His family has been super nice to me and we have just grown together,” Gadd said.
The friendship is even more ironic considering the magnitude of the battles between the Highlanders and the Crusaders over their careers.
While the regular season match-ups have all been hard-fought games, Webster and Greater Beckley have also met in do-or-die regional clashes all three years of their high school careers.
“My freshman year, they were ranked No. 1 and we were ranked No. 2 and we went home. It was tough,” Smallwood said. “The games have all been crazy battles and definitely a rival game. Everybody looks forward to the GBC and Webster game. We know it will most likely come down to a win or go home game.”
Gadd feels that the familiarity between the teams has been a key factor in the tight games.
“There are such great friendships on the teams and you know everybody your playing. It becomes like a little personal battle and it’s awesome,” Gadd said. “We know each others game and you know what you are going to get. That is why I think the games are so close. It is a great battle at the end of the day.”
When asked what it was like to guard Gadd, Smallwood shook his head, smiled a laughed a little.
“With Rye, you almost have to hope for an off day. He is really hard to guard. For one, Rye has a really good build and he is quick on his feet,” Smallwood said. “He can play as a guard or a big man in high school. He attacks the rim and make strong moves on the perimeter to get by defenders. He can definitely shoot it from anywhere.”
Could the dynamic guard duo be on a collision course for a fourth postseason meeting? Only time will tell, but Gadd knows the postseason in Region 3 nothing to take for granted.
“It is going to take a lot of work. Every practice has to be serious and every film session has to be serious,” Gadd said. “We are probably as young as we have been in a while. Our first game this year, we had seven kids where it was the first time they had touched the varsity court. It will take some time to get their confidence and I think our best games will be played at the end of the season.”
Playing with such a young group creates a new challenges for Gadd as the senior leader.
“Mike and I have talked a lot about me not trying to do too much. I am finding the groove that I need to play in and be a leader at the same time,” Gadd said. “It’s hard being the only senior out on the court. You have to help them at every position, but it will come. It is a hard balance, but nothing we can’t handle.”
The next two games for the Highlanders will be at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center in the New River CTC Tournament.
Webster will face Westside Monday, Jan. 3 at 8:15 p.m. before a much anticipated battle against fellow Region 3 titan James Monroe Saturday, Jan. 8 at 11:30 a.m.
Greater Beckley will visit Upper Glade Friday, Feb. 11 for the second regular season meeting this year.
“Webster is perfectly capable of knocking us off the next time that we play and they showed it in the second half tonight. We will have to be ready,” Greater Beckley head coach Justin Arvon said after Saturday’s game. “Rye is a willing passer and because he is a willing passer, they are tough to guard. Somebody is going to get a great basketball player. My personal opinion is that college offers should be flowing in for him and I think they will be. He will be a great college player.”