NAPPANEE — NorthWood will be tied with Concord as the last area team to open its Indiana boys high school basketball season when the Panthers finally debut Friday, Dec. 6 at perennial Class 1A power Triton — and Concord’s only opening that late because of football — so anticipation by the Panthers and their fans alike is beginning to bubble over.
“I think our players are excited to just play different teams at this point,” NorthWood coach Aaron Wolfe says. “They feel like they’ve had a good offseason, and as long as we make sure we don’t base things on other people’s expectations, we can have a successful year.”
Granted, other people’s expectations may be soaring.
The Panthers, after all, are coming off a 16-7 record, return the area’s top 1-2 scoring punch in 6-foot-5 forwards Zach Zurcher and Jonathan Wilkinson, both of them All-Area second-teamers last winter, return four starters overall, return perhaps last winter’s premier sixth man in the area — 6-5 Will Stueve, who will now be the fifth starter — and return plenty of promising players beyond the first five.
Zurcher averaged 16.5 points and Wilkinson 16.4 a year ago. They were also the top two scorers on a late-surging, sectional-title team as sophomores. Guards Kyle McCoy and Tanner Farmwald finished at a combined 12.4 points, 6.5 assists and 3.0 steals last season, while Stueve was Elkhart County’s top shot blocker at 2.4 per game to go with a 7.2 scoring average.
NorthWood’s 16-7 mark was its best since going 19-6 in 2006-07 and gave the program a 10th winning season in the last 11 years. The Panthers roared to an 11-1 start, then stumbled with five straight losses — three of them by a combined seven points — but recovered to win five in a row before falling to an ultimately 20-4 Tippecanoe Valley club 60-51 in the Class 3A Wawasee Sectional final.
That sectional field remains the same this season.
Friday’s opener at Triton will be followed by the home opener Saturday against LaVille.
Q&A WITH NORTHWOOD COACH AARON WOLFE
Q: What kind of offseasons did Jonathan Wilkinson and Zach Zurcher each have, and what do they bring to the mix?
A: “Both are three-year starters and we’re obviously looking to them for some senior leadership. We feel both players are versatile and have the ability to guard multiple positions, and score in a variety of ways, which I feel will be beneficial to our basketball team. I feel both have done a great job in the offseason improving their athleticism, strength and skill level.”
Q: Who are the others who will play regularly and what do they offer?
A: “I feel the development of Will Stueve could be as important as anything. He gives us a player who rebounds the basketball, may be our best defender and has extended his shooting range. His ability to post and be an interior threat will put pressure on opposing defenses. Our guards, we return two starters in Kyle McCoy and Tanner Farmwald, and we had Braxton Linville coming off the bench quite a bit as a freshman last year. I feel like physically, Braxton has changed the most. He’s about three inches bigger, about 25 pounds heavier. Our guards’ ability to organize our basketball team, to control the tempo of the game, to lead in practices and during games will be a large component to our success.”
Q: How’s the depth beyond that?
A: “Travis Bear and Cam Simpson are coming off a successful junior varsity team (16-4). Cam is a very talented player, is pushing 6-6, a reliable shooter and has a high basketball IQ. Travis definitely fills a role for us as a perimeter defender. He’s a strong athlete out there who gives us a different component. He could be a reliable rebounder and offensive player as well. Dakyrion Fox is a strong sophomore who made a lot of improvement in the offseason and played JV last year. He will be a cornerstone in our program.”
Q: Fans are eager about this season. What are you expecting?
A: “We’re going to keep our same standards that we use year to year. We want to represent our community in a first-class manner and we want to compete at a state level, and I think we can accomplish those goals. When I say state level, that simply means trying to be competitive with whoever we play. That starts with the (Northern Lakes Conference), which is a great basketball conference and we’d like to do better there (3-4 last season). We want to be an improving team during the season, and I think at times that will be the challenge, because we return some guys that have been through the schedule, but also have some new pieces, and that always changes chemistry. So we have to keep fine-tuning.”
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr.
3 Braxton Linville G 6-1 So.
4 Zach Zurcher F 6-5 Sr.
5 Vincent Miranda G 5-9 Fr.
10 Tanner Farmwald G 5-9 Sr.
11 Chad Sellers G 5-9 So.
12 Kyle McCoy G 5-7 Sr.
13 Dakyrion Fox F 6-3 So.
20 David Eshleman G 5-8 So.
21 Jon Wilkinson G 6-5 Sr.
22 Travis Bear F 5-11 Jr.
30 Zach Schwartz G 5-10 Jr.
31 Trey Bilinski F 6-1 Fr.
32 Cam Simpson F 6-5 Jr.
33 Will Stueve F 6-5 Sr.
Coach: Aaron Wolfe (77-59 in six seasons, all at NorthWood).
Assistants: Phil Lechlitner, Zac Lechlitner, A.J. Risedorph, Trevor Shields, Dennis Hershberger, Doug Gerber.
6 — at Triton. 7 — LaVille. 12 — at Westview. 14 — Fairfield. 17 — Jimtown 20 — Plymouth (c).
3 — Holiday Tourney (vs. Tippecanoe Valley at Rochester). 4 — Holiday Tourney (vs. Fairfield or Rochester in consolation or championship at NorthWood). 10 — at Wawasee (c). 14 — at New Prairie. 17 — Northridge (c). 21 — Lakeland. 24 — at Goshen (c). 31 — Warsaw (c).
4 — West Noble. 8 — at Concord (c). 13 — Elkhart Memorial (c). 18 — at Glenn. 21 — Bremen. 24 — at Whitko.
(c) — Denotes Northern Lakes Conference games.
NORTHWOOD RETURNING LEADERS
Points: Zach Zurcher 16.5*, Jonathan Wilkinson 16.4, Will Stueve 7.2, Tanner Farmwald 6.4, Kyle McCoy 6.0.
Rebounds: Zurcher 4.8, Wilkinson 3.9, Stueve 2.9, Farmwald 2.6, McCoy 2.2.
Assists: McCoy 3.9*, Farmwald 2.6, Wilkinson 2.5, Braxton Linville 2.2, Zurcher 2.2.
Steals: McCoy 1.9*, Wilkinson 1.4, Farmwald 1.1, Zucher 1.0, Stueve 0.9.
* — Denotes also led last season’s team overall.