HARTVILLE New is the buzz word for Lake Center Christian basketball this season.
The school, which has basketball as its only winter sport, has two new head coaches helming its boys and girls programs. As they take over, both coaches are working toward the goal of building their own style and having a competitive first season at the helm.
"On the girls’ side of things, our energy has been good. This might be my first season as head coach, but I have been the varsity assistant the last three years and know the girls well," head coach Tim Keene said. "Stepping into the lead role then has felt more like a passing of the baton then an overhaul of any kind."
Having been with the program before, Keene has been able to hit the ground running at full speed, coaching the team’s seniors on the junior varsity level and also having had them as students in his classes before. He and new boys coach Ryan McGonagle haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk yet about their shared challenges in taking over a program at a school that is smaller than all of its conference vials, but the two both believe their toughest challenges will be logistical issues.
"We haven't had a discussion, but the big challenge is sharing athletes," McGonagle said. We have kids that just like to work on sports and they have no problem with going from one thing to the next. I anticipated the sharing of athletes to be a huge challenge, but with our coaches, kids and administration it hasn't been difficult at all."
Keene noted that building the school’s youth program, meeting with parents and getting everyone on the same page.
The level of success the two programs have attained in recent years is one area where they differ. The girls team has typically dealt with lower numbers and has found it difficult to break through to have a winning record. Entering the Portage Trail Conference highlighted that challenge and Keene believes that while the program has improved, playing in a solid league with larger schools has kept the win total from rising too much.
He wants the game to be fun and has worked during the offseason to help the players remember why they enjoy the game.
"We have done a good job this off season remembering why we love basketball and being aware of our past - but forgetting what is behind and just playing free," Keene said.
His message is to fly around the court, move the ball and play more collectively on the court. There are no set goals for wins and losses, but improving on the win total of recent years would be a solid first step for the program.
For the boys, being fully invested in the program has been the theme of the past few months. McGonagle has emphasized players being a part of all offseason activities if possible.
"Throughout the offseason, we had players in the gym five days a week for at least four hours each day. We have had large events such as youth camp, skills camp and team building events throughout the offseason," McGonagle said. "With our program doing so much in the offseason, there has been a tremendous anticipation for the season to get here. Now that it finally has, our kids are really enjoying the process of building and getting better. The energy in our practices is unbelievable."
Roster size will once again be an area of divergence for the two teams. The boys have a full varsity roster with a solid group of upperclassmen, while the girls will be a young group. With 10 players on the roster and one currently recovering from an injury, Keene and his staff know that health is a huge factor for them if they hope to be successful this winter. There are freshmen in the mix as well, but for now, the coaching staff is trying to find the right lineup combinations to work going into the year.
The boys will count on seniors Caleb Bower, Jacob Ickes, C.J. Bancroft, Zach Page and Josh Kasler to lead the way. With four juniors behind them, LCC is a veteran squad and after Page’s late-game heroics on several occasions last season, the Tigers know they have someone who doesn’t mind taking the big shot.
Like Keene, McGonagle wants to focus more on the intangible, immeasurable aspects of the game when it comes to growth and progress.
"The focal point for our program has been our culture," he said. "We have defined a culture in which every kids maxes out with work ethic, energy and being a good teammate every day. Our practices have been amazing. Our kids are really bought in to being held accountable to a high standard."
Those standards will soon be applied to on-court action in addition to practices and when that time comes, the new area at LCC will officially be underway.
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