Coach: Team has several goals as it prepares for tough early schedule
By Brady Extin | The Times-Post
PENDLETON — Pendleton Heights enters the 2022-23 campaign coming off of a 9-18 season, and without a single senior on the roster.
For head coach Adam Ballard, finding their identity as a team will be the first hurdle for the Arabians to clear.
“There’s an element of trying to figure out your identity and who you are when you have a younger team that hasn’t played a whole, whole lot together. That’s part of the journey of trying to figure out who you are,” Ballard said. “We’ve had a great first couple days of practice, and I’m just really excited to see the work and commitment that all of our guys have put into this season start to pay off for them.”
Getting past that opening hurdle will be step one in trying to avoid repeating the start that the team got off to last season.
The Arabians began the 2021-22 season losing nine of their first 10 games, before getting key players back and righting the ship with a 7-7 finish.
“It’s something that we’re really emphasizing this year. Once we were able to kind of get our footing, and get it figured out, I thought our kids did a really good job,” Ballard said.
“Our first six games are probably the toughest stretch all season, so it’s important that we hit the ground running and that very first night we’re firing on all cylinders. There’s going to be some adversity and some ups and downs, but I’m excited to see how our kids attack that and handle it.”
The opening stretch for the Arabians will involve six teams that bested them last season, including sectional champions Mt. Vernon and Westfield.
While the team looks to overcome a tough opening schedule and the search for its team identity, it will also be tasked with replacing the production lost by leading scorer Jamison Dunham. Dunham (18.3 points) was one of just two Arabians to average double figure’s last season.
“Losing Jamison’s 18 and a half a game is a huge hole, but overall we’re trying to score as a committee and team rather than just rely on one guy every night,” Ballard said. “Just being really locked into being the best team that we can be, and not getting caught up on individual things like scoring averages, player of the week, and stuff like that. We want to focus on being a ‘we before me’ kind of group.”
The only other Arabian to average double figures last season — Josiah Gustin — enters the season as the guy Ballard expects to replace most of the production.
“We’d like to see Josiah average in the mid- to high teens and also be a force on the glass,” Ballard said. “Josiah is the guy that we’re all kind of expecting to pick up some production, but we’ve got several guys that are capable of scoring double figures.”
Two others that Ballard expects to be contributors this season are junior Isaac Wilson and sophomore Evan Mozingo.
“Evan can really shoot, and we’re excited about what he brings to the table. They will both be full-time varsity guys for the first time in their lives, so I’m really excited about what those guys can do,” Ballard said. “Both of them are willing and capable scorers on the perimeter, and can get to the rim as well. They’re both guys that I’m really, really excited about, and can’t wait to get them out there.”
While those two are new to the varsity roster, the teams’ experience comes from a group of juniors in Brayden Kanitz, Aaron Cookston, Dontrez Braxton and Gustin, all of whom have seen time on the varsity roster.
“In a perfect world, it allows them to be very comfortable coming into the season. Really, we’ve got five guys that have played in the 7:30 game,” Ballard said. “My hope is that they’ll be a calming presence, and they’ll have the confidence to go in and compete, believe in themselves, but also be someone that their teammates can rely upon, and count on to help them get over that hump from JV to varsity.”
While the team searches for its identity, Ballard has an idea as to where he wants it to be found — on the defensive end.
“We’re going to have to be very consistent defensively. If we’re consistent defensively, I think we will be in every game that we play,” Ballard said. “If we are inconsistent, that’s going to make it more difficult for us on a regular basis to have success. If we make defense the identity of our team, we’ll have a lot more success on the offensive end too.”
Pendleton Heights opens up the season Nov. 22 on the road at Anderson.