It wasn't supposed to be like this.
With a senior-laden roster that included Donny Bowen, one of the area's premier players, and a number of returning letter winners, this season was supposed to have gone smoothly for Woodmore’s boys basketball team.
However, after some early-season struggles and a major injury to Bowen, who is averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds, have made things quite difficult for a Woodmore basketball team that was hoping for big things this season. Bowen was an Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press first team selection the past two years.
After seven games, the Wildcats find themselves 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the Northern Buckeye Conference.
But it's not as bad as it seems.
Woodmore defeated Eastwood, 55-54, in overtime, on a last-second jump shot by Jake Lewandowski. The Wildcats are hoping that the victory, which saw them rally from an 18-point deficit, can help jumpstart them as they head into the heart of their league schedule.
“There wasn't necessarily one thing that got us going. We just told (the guys) to chip away,” said Wildcats coach Brad Sander. “One possession at a time is what you worry about. You can't panic and think about overcoming an 18-point deficit all at once.”
For Sander, now in his third season coaching at Woodmore, the game was a microcosm for the team's play this season.
“We've struggled with consistency and playing well for long periods of time,” he said. “That game was no different. The first part of the third quarter we weren't defending, sharing the ball or moving offensively and took bad shots; that's how we got in that position. Once we picked up the defensive intensity and we started executing the things we work on in practice, we started getting stops and making shots.”
Woodmore's four losses have come to teams with a combined 20-6 record. Sander scheduled a difficult non-conference slate with the hope that it will challenge his team, expose them to a variety of styles of play and better prepare them for NBC play. It should be noted that, in their loss to Old Fort (7-0), one of the area's top teams, the Wildcats were within six points with six minutes to play before things fell apart.
Since the injury, the starting lineup has consisted of Lewandowski (5-9), point guard Brad Flick (5-9), shooting guard and small forward Drew Speaker, Matt Haar (6-2) at center and Erich Greulich (6-0) filling in for Bowen at power forward. Meanwhile, center Harrison Wooten (6-8), small forward Phil Thorbahn and guard Dan Sprinski.
Sander notes that Speaker and Sprinski are the team's defensive specialists and they usually draw the other team's top scorer. He also credits Flick and Lewandowski for picking up some of the slack on the offensive end and Haar with helping to supply some of the rebounding during Bowen's absence.
What's holding the Wildcats back, according to Sander, is their inconsistency. He says they've played well in spurts, but for much of the season they've struggled playing good defense, rebounding, being physical and making good decisions with the basketball.
“We're not playing anywhere near our best basketball and we have to make sure that we get better each day at practice,” Sander said. “If we're not getting better, we're not going to play to our potential.”
It won't be easy, considering that seven of Woodmore's next eight games are on the road. During that period, they'll play some of the league's top teams in Lake and Otsego, on the road, giving them a chance to leave make their mark on the conference.
Flick spoke about the team's play thus far.
“We've had our ups and down so far,” said Flick. “Right now, we're just trying to put everything together for a full game and play to our full potential.”
Flick also spoke of the loss of Bowen, who broke a bone in his foot and is expected to be back sometime around mid-to-late January.
“It was definitely a big loss,” Flick said, “but we're expecting everyone to step up and just trust Coach Sander. We still expect to win during Donny's absence and need to believe in ourselves.”
There is a possibility that the injury to Bowen could serve, to an extent, as a blessing in disguise because of what it will require of his teammates.
“Everyone realizes that we need to raise our game,” Flick said, “so I think this could be a very positive thing for us in the long run. Obviously, losing Donny isn't good, but we're trying to make the best out of it.”