10 weeks of regular season games ends just in time to allow multiple
sport athletes close to a month to refocus mentally and physically
before entering the winter months on the hardwood. Some school's don't have that luxury due to the football playoffs.
These situations are bitter-sweet for all involved because obviously it is an incredible experience to play in Week 11 and beyond, but the rules and schedules are continuing to make it tougher and tougher for high school athletes to prepare properly for each particular season.
In talking to coaches and players that have experienced this situation, the responses come back with several thoughts – some similar, some different. They say conditioning, game speed, and X’s and O’s are all things that suffer.
One example of this difficulty is being faced by coach Kent Wolfe and his Williamsport Westfall Mustangs. The Mustangs football team, led by first-year head coach Scott Keller, won every game for 13 weeks before losing to Coldwater in the final four of the Division-IV state tournament. For the most part, Westfall – just like most small schools throughout Ohio – has a basketball roster with many names from the football team, and they are all going through an adjustment period.
“I think conditioning is the big thing,” said Westfall’s football defensive coordinator Todd Seymour when asked about many of the kids transitioning to basketball after just a handful of practices. “The kids are still getting their legs under them and getting into basketball shape. The conditioning is different and it will take some time for them to get there, but these are great kids with a great work ethic and they will be fine.”
Fortunately, there is plenty of time before the postseason rolls around. Unfortunately, teams that are involved in league races do not have the luxury of losing while adjusting. Most conference races are won with teams that lose only once or twice, and an early season hiccup can be enough to bury any title hopes.
“Athletically we are fine,” said Coach Wolfe. “The conditioning is coming as well, but right now we just are not shooting the ball very well. We have struggled in the first three or four games to make over 40-percent of our shots, and it is putting a lot of pressure on us to be nearly perfect on the defensive end.”
The Westfall basketball staff also contains someone who is very experienced in dealing with this situation in Coach Luke McConnell. McConnell spent three years at Amanda High School – a football program that knows a little something about playing in Weeks 14 and 15 – where he spent one year as a varsity assistant for the boys’ varsity basketball team and two years as the head coach. Coach McConnell feels like each situation is different, but he does admit that programs that go through this consistently can be hurt both short-term and long-term.
“I think conditioning and consistency on the offensive end are the most difficult things to get with a late start,” said McConnell. “It can also hurt the future of the basketball program because it cuts into the junior varsity and freshmen level as well.
“As a coach you want to be as competitive as possible,” he continued. “You hurry to get things in and often times it’s the basic fundamentals and other key preseason drill work that gets left out. It is very tough to find that balance when working against time.”
Coaches never want to get caught up in using excuses, but this is just a simple factor that plays a major role in many late November, early December high school basketball match-ups. Great athletes like the ones who wear the Westfall uniforms are going to continue to adjust and eventually by midseason will be just fine, but in the meantime, it can make for some bumps in the road against teams that are currently in midseason form.