SYRACUSE — Wawasee will be the area’s most familiar-faced team this boys basketball season, and yet the area’s least familiar-looking.
The Warriors return 86 percent of last season’s scoring, easily tops around here.
But they also happen to be the lone area club with a new head coach, as Steve Wiktorowski succeeds Phil Mishler, who stepped down June 27 after 13 years, a 168-126 record, three sectional titles and the program’s only regional crown.
Mishler had installed a distinct playing style in recent seasons, one that entailed more 3-point than 2-point tries, an unusual amount of defensive gambling and frequent, virtual-platoon substituting, among other maneuvers.
Wiktorowski hopes to take advantage of some of the accompanying skills his players have acquired, but acknowledges that his approach will be a more traditional one.
“We are behind,” Wiktorowski said Wednesday, Nov. 20, of installing an offense and defense. “With me getting the job in mid-July, we were able to do a little bit in the summer, but most teams had all summer to work on their systems. We’re starting from scratch right now, everything we do, every drill. There’s a lot of teaching.”
The Warriors finished 5-16 last winter, including 2-12 after their top scorer, a senior, opted to leave the team. That came after they’d already lost fourth-year varsity starter Jake Thompson just two games into the season with an injury.
Alex Clark, who averaged 13.7 points and 3.5 rebounds as a sophomore, leads the plethora of returnees now.
Clark has been recovering from a broken hand, but Wiktorowski was hopeful this past week that the junior would be cleared in time for the Tuesday, Nov. 26, opener at Fairfield.
“We’ve got a lot of kids back, but we’re still very young, with just two seniors,” said Wiktorowski, who is also the school’s third-year athletic director. “We’re going to play a lot of juniors and sophomores.”
Q&A WITH WAWASEE COACH STEVE WIKTOROWSKI
Q: With the change in head coach, especially given that Phil (Mishler) employed a distinct style, what will the biggest differences be on the court?
A: “Probably the two main differences will be the point of emphasis in where we’re trying to get shots and, on defense, protecting the lane. Obviously, Phil was very perimeter-oriented and we’re going to try to still incorporate some of that. He did a great job teaching how to penetrate with the ball, which is a great skill, so we want to incorporate that, but I think our main emphasis is going to be getting higher-percentage shots and getting people open different ways. You’ll see more screening with our offense. On defense, Phil had kids who worked very aggressively, and we want to keep that, but we want to protect the lane more because we just don’t have much height.”
Q: How have the players handled the transition?
A: “I couldn’t be any happier with them. They’re a very coachable group. Phil did a great job instilling a great work ethic in these kids. They’re used to working hard and they accept coaching. They’re very positive about the change. I think they’re also very realistic in that we play in a difficult league and we are behind in putting in a new system, but I really think we have a chance to be one of the more improved teams in our area by the end of the year. That’s my goal, and we do host the (Class 3A) sectional this year, so that’s a big focus for us.”
Q: Who are some of the contenders to start and what do they bring to the mix?
A: “One nice thing is we’ve got a lot of kids who can play different positions, and 12 kids all competing for time, but obviously, Alex Clark is our leading returning scorer. He’s been limited in practices to no contact because of his broken hand, but we’re hoping he’ll be released here soon and can catch up quickly. He’s one of the most dedicated players I’ve ever been around. He’s always working at his game. I think he’ll be one of the better players in the area. I’ve been happy with Gage Reinhard. He’s very versatile. Jake Hutchinson has played well. He’s a very good shooter. Sam Clark has looked good at point guard. For a sophomore, he runs the team very well. Chase Myers is a senior and one of the few kids we have with size. He can go inside and outside. Stori Bright is a great rebounder, and with our size, having somebody who’s going to board both offensively and defensively is very important. Those are some of the main kids, but we’ll have others who will play.”
Q: Combining head coaching in basketball with being an athletic director is rare. Though the season’s just starting, how has that gone?
A: “It’s never been done here before, but one thing is, I’m an experienced coach (including seven years at Fairfield, seven years at Prairie Heights, nine years with the Goshen College women), so that’s helped, and it’s helped that I’ve got a couple years under my belt now as AD. It’s a challenge, there’s no question about that. You have to be good at time management, but the thing that makes this possible for me is I’ve just got great help. Tammy (Hutchinson, athletic secretary) and my assistant, Cory Schutz, are great. They’ve taken on more duties, and the administration is aware of that. Without the support of my staff and my coaches, it would be almost impossible to do.”
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr.
10 Aaron Voirol G 5-11 Jr.
12 Jeffrey Moore G 5-10 So.
14 Gage Reinhard W 6-1 Jr.
20 Jake Hutchinson G 5-11 Jr.
22 Chase Myers W 6-5 Sr.
24 David Rocha G 5-10 Jr.
30 Jayce Boatwright W 6-2 So.
32 Sam Clark G 5-10 So.
40 Alex Clark W 6-2 Jr.
50 Stori Bright P 6-2 Jr.
52 Elijah Solina P 6-3 Jr.
54 Kody Carpenter P 6-5 Sr.
Coach: Steve Wiktorowski (121-178 in 14 seasons overall; first season at Wawasee; 43-100 in seven seasons at Prairie Heights; 78-78 in seven seasons at Fairfield).
Assistants: Ed Waltz, Barry Singrey, Vince Rhodes.
26 — at Fairfield. 30 — Angola.
6 — Manchester. 7 — at West Noble. 10 — Mishawaka. 14 — at Whitko. 20 — at Warsaw (c).
4 — Columbia City. 10 — NorthWood (c). 17 — Elkhart Memorial (c). 18 — at Elkhart Central (North Side Gym). 24 — at Plymouth (c). 31 — Concord (c).
1 — Lakeland. 8 — at Northridge (c). 13 — Goshen (c). 15 — at Rochester (noon JV start). 18 — at Westview. 21 — at FW South. 28 — Tippecanoe Valley.
(c) — Denotes Northern Lakes Conference games.
WAWASEE RETURNING LEADERS
Points: Alex Clark 13.7, Gage Reinhard 7.9, Chase Myers 5.5, Jeffrey Moore 4.9, Jake Hutchinson 4.2.
Rebounds: Stori Bright 4.6*, A. Clark 3.5, Reinhard 2.5.
Assists: Reinhard 2.9*, A. Clark 1.9, Sam Clark 1.1.
Steals: Reinhard 1.8, David Rocha 1.2, Bright 0.9, A. Clark 0.9.
* — Denotes also led last season’s team overall.