Even though 11 of 14 players on this year’s team are underclassmen, North Tonawanda is looking to have a winning season. (File photo)Jacks’ boys hoops looks to win now despite youth
Now is the time for the North Tonawanda Lumberjacks basketball team and its mission is a simple one — win this season.
Though the Jacks lean toward being on the young side with 11 of its 14 players underclassmen, coach Ryan Mountain isn’t using age as a crutch if things get bumpy.
More importantly, they aren’t using youth as a reason to sit back and wait form good things to happen.
Mountain said while some programs may go with the mind-set of a two- or three-year plan to build a young team into contention, his focus is getting the most out of his team to win today – not waiting for down the road.
“We feel that we have the talent and cohesiveness to win some games this season and compete in a very tough league,” Mountain said.
Mountain noted that even though his team is playing a very tough schedule, he believes that the Jacks have what it takes to succeed now and it’s crucial that the players buy into that.
“In terms of age, we’re young,” Mountain added, “but as far as basketball I.Q., basketball savvy and teamwork, we’re right where we need to be.”
Leading the way for the Jacks this year will be seniors Tyler Walker, Ian Gilhousen and junior Christian Lemke.
Walker and Lemke saw the most significant playing time, while Gilhousen played quality minutes as the first guy off the bench. All three without question will be needed to play bigger roles this season.
“I think that our returning guys are showing good leadership and they’re helping the new guys come along,” Christian Lemke said. “We’re just getting better and better each day, which is our ultimate goal.”
The rest of the projected starting five will include junior Joe Piotrowski and sophomore Nehemiah Stone.
While Stone made headlines on the football field this season, Mountain said that the youngster also turned heads in what had to be the wildest 30 second varsity debut in NT history.
In his very first varsity appearance, Stone was involved in a flurry that saw him make two steals, a deflection and lose a tooth as he went all out to dive for a loose ball.
What also pleased Mountain was that his team was barely removed from the end of last season and his players had the itch to get back in the gym and start working on this year.
“At the end of last season, the upcoming players immediately wanted to start playing again, and that was huge,” he said. “When they called me and asked if they could start playing ball together, that’s a coach’s dream.”
Mountain said that between AAU and summer league, his team saw the equivalent of 40 varsity level games in the offseason.
Chris Woodard, Alex Billie, Michael Awad, Donovan Book, Jared Cortes, Kiel Davignon, Adam
McNeill, Kyle Martinez and Jacob Ferry complete the Jack’s roster, which is built on the foundation of an unselfish, team-first approach. This team also has confidence in what they can do when they work as one, but realizes that nothing will be handed to them.
“We have confidence that we can beat whoever we play as long as we play to the best of our ability,”
Lemke said. “And there’s no “I” in team. Everything’s (about) the team.”N-T girls basketball team feeling much improved
It’s definitely a more upbeat mood for the North Tonawanda girls basketball team, and with good reason.
As North Tonawanda heads into the 2012-13 varsity basketball season, coach Luke Vogel, who is in his fourth year with the team, feels that this will be a much different season. After struggling the past few seasons the Jacks now have without question, from top to bottom, its most athletic roster since Vogel took over.
“One of the things we’ve talked about since Day One is this is probably the deepest we’ve been in terms of overall talent,” Vogel said before a recent practice. “The last couple years we were stuck playing seven, maybe eight girls. In this league, there’s no reason we won’t play 10, all 11 kids.”
Leading the way will be tri-captains Kali Marsh, Rachelle Judy and Megan Helf. Judy said the feeling is that they have finally turned the corner as a program and are capable of going toe-to-toe against any team in the Niagara Frontier League.
“This is the first year that our team is a solid team,” Rachelle Judy said. “We have a lot of talent. There’s a lot of girls that are fast and can handle the ball.”
All seniors, Helf, Marsh, and Judy will give the Jacks a solid core to build with. Judy will run the point and the 6-foot tall Marsh will play center, providing the Jacks with a proven combo that can help them score on the inside. Helf, at the two-guard, brings speed and a good shooting eye. In fact, Helf could be the X-factor the Jacks need to help get them over the hump in close games.
Judy has excellent ball handling skills and can fire a pin point pass as good as anyone in WNY. Marsh, meanwhile, has battled injuries her sophomore and junior seasons. If she can stay healthy there is no reason why she can’t be one of the premiere bigs in the NFL, if not all of Section VI.
The three should also have plenty of help around them. Junior power forward Katherine Zgolak and sophomore small forward Megan Weaver round out the Jacks’ projected starting five.
Vogel was quick to credit his senior captains for not only setting right tone from the start of tryouts, but
also working with younger players during the summer to get them ready for this season. Both in their third year with Vogel, Marsh said she and Judy are focused to make this a memorable season.
“Rachelle and I are both very excited, being senior captains this year.” Marsh said. “And we hope that this year will be a lot better than the past years.”
In the past few seasons, the last couple of spots on the Jacks’ bench have been held by international students who had little, or no organized basketball experience.
Now the Jack’s roster includes an impressive mix of girls from soccer, tennis, volleyball and softball. Joining the varsity are Lauren Helf, Heather Fontana, Gretchen Ringler, Kayla Barone and Chanel Nkounkou. So even though the Jacks don’t have a lot of pure basketball players, they’ll have athletes with a quicker learning curve to take in what Vogel is teaching them.
“You can see the difference in practice from basic drills to any 5-on-5 stuff,” Vogel said. “Everything is more crisp and just in general the quality of play has gone up.”
While Vogel and his Jacks know that life in the NFL is far from a cake walk, they realize more than ever, they are capable of giving the rest of the league all they can handle.