Middle Park looks to surprise Frontier League
It’s starting to feel more like winter in Graby, which means Middle Park High School is gearing up for basketball season, and the Panthers are looking to rebuild coming off of a disappointing 7-14 season.
“We had some real bright spots,” said Head Coach Jeff Ehlert. “That was the second highest scoring team in Middle Park history. We just struggled a little big on rebounding, and that cost us a lot of games. We lost some close ones because we couldn’t get a rebound when we needed one. But overall is was a good year.”
According to Elhert rebounding will again be an emphasis coming into the season. Meanwhile, the Panthers will have to find a way to replace the offensive firepower that left the team in the spring. Ten seniors from last years’ team graduated, including vital players such as Nojus Bilevicius, Mitch Gardner, Jordan Ehlert and Davis Lovato.
Last year the four-ranked top in the team in defensive rebounds, with Bilevicius leading the pack with 4.4 per game. They also made a huge difference on the offensive side of the ball. Bilevicius, Gardner and Lovato all ranked top four in offensive rebounds, and Ehlert, Bilevicius and Lovato went one, two and three in points per game last season.
“We lost a lot of talent from last year, so it’ll be an interesting year,” said Coach Elhert. “We’ll be rebuilding this year, but we have some good, young talent coming up.”
Despite the promise of a rebuilding year, Elhert believes that this team could easily surprise people. He said he traveled to Mesa in June with a group of kids to play a tournament, and went 6-3. But to surprise teams in in league play the Panthers will need to rely on new players stepping into the spotlight.
Ehlert identified Juniors Jackson Wolle and Ben Kuhnel, Sophomore Evan Laraby, and Senior Lukas Senovaitis as potential standout performers coming into the season.
But most importantly, Elhert believes that the team needs to shake the defeatist attitude they’ve had in past seasons and focus on leaving it all on the court.
“I want them to enter every contest with the idea that if they give everything they’ve got they can win,” said Elhert. “It’s not always true, but if you don’t play that way you’ll never find out which teams you can beat.
“It’s always been a tough thing here. A lot of kids look at another team and think they’re going to beat us. I’m trying to get rid of that attitude…We’ve got to get them out of that mindset, and make them feel like they can go out there and make the other team play their game.”
The Panthers’ game is running. What Middle Park perennially lacks in size, they try and make up for with speed and raw athleticism. Elhert said the strategy is to play at high speed throughout the game to try and create chaos for opponents and get them out of their comfort zone. He said the team would also press most of the games to create more turnovers.
“We don’t play traditional basketball,” he said. “It’s high paced, exciting form. Some people might not see it or understand it right away. But once you learn to love it you’ll find most basketball boring because we play at such a fast pace. We urge everyone to come out and watch the team, and see how fun it can be when you play at that high pace.”
The Panthers start practice on Friday, and take on the Summit Tigers in their first game of the season on Nov. 30.
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