By Brady Extin | The Times-Post
LAPEL — Last year, for the Lapel boys basketball team and new head coach Kevin Cherry, it was all about establishing certain philosophies and building a sense of stability around the program.
Now in year two, and with those things beginning to take shape, Cherry enters the season with an experienced group looking to take another step forward.
“We do have a lot of experience coming back, but at the same time we’ll have some juniors that we’re going to rely heavily on and a sophomore class where some of those kids are going to get a shot,” Cherry said. “We’ll only have three seniors on the roster, so we’re not a real senior-laden team but we do have substantial experience coming back.”
The Bulldogs return nine players from last year’s team that went 12-13 and bring back four players who started on a regular basis or appeared in nearly every game.
That group of returning players will be led by junior brothers, Bode and Brode Judge.
The duo were the top two scorers for the Bulldogs last season.
Brode led the team with 14.0 points per game, while Bode averaged 10.5. Along with the 10.5 points, Bode pulled down a team-high 5.0 rebounds per game, and Brode averaged 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
“Both of them work really hard. They’ve continued to work in the weight room, have gotten stronger, and they’re a year older now,” Cherry said. “They worked really hard on their game in the offseason, and we’re looking forward to seeing what kind of step they can both take forward for us this year.”
Along with the Judges, Lapel returns seniors Nick Witte, Matthew Carpenter, and sophomore Devin Craig.
Witte and Carpenter both appeared in all 25 games for the Bulldogs last season, while Craig appeared in 15.
Carpenter averaged 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while Witte led the team with 2.1 assists per game and added 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Craig averaged 2.9 points and 1.3 assists.
To bolster an already experienced returning group, the Bulldogs also bring in Pendleton Heights’ transfer Hunter Suchyna who appeared in 15 games for the Arabians last season as a sophomore.
“He’s [Suchyna] a talented player,” Cherry said. “Being new to a program it’s tough to come in and find your way, so he’s still learning to fit in. His attitude and work ethic have been great.
“He’s a team-first kind of guy, and that quality has been a great addition to the program. Not that we don’t have other guys like that, it’s just his willingness to be unselfish and do whatever it takes for us to be successful has been great.”
Rounding out the Bulldogs roster is senior Talan Jarrett and a strong sophomore class.
The Bulldogs roster includes five sophomores — Craig, Quinn Wilkins, Luke Jones, Andrew Evelo and Tyler Cash.
Along with Craig, Wilkins, and Jones appeared in a few games for the Bulldogs last year as freshmen. The entire group, though, looks to take on a bigger role this season.
“We’re always fighting for starting spots. I think we have eight or nine guys that start on any given night for us,” Cherry said. “We’ve talked about it at practice that even our upperclassmen have to understand that they’re competing for spots every day. The sophomore class is deep and those kids want to play in the big games on Friday and Saturday and are trying to take their spots. It’s been very competitive at practices, which is great for everybody. Hopefully, that will pay off this season.”
With a strong group of underclassmen and experience at the top of the roster, for Cherry the key this season will be holding onto the ball and limiting mistakes. Last year, the Bulldogs averaged 14.8 turnovers per game, and that was what cost them in the sectional against Wapahani. In the 49-41 loss, they turned the ball over 17 times.
“Our primary focus this offseason has been taking care of the basketball. If you look back on our season last year, that was the No. 1 factor in us maybe winning five or six more games. We averaged 15 or 16 turnovers a game and that is just not acceptable if you want to win at any high level of basketball,” Cherry said. “We’ve really worked on that, and have worked on our staff just being better coaches. We have to make sure that the kids understand the right read and the situation to be able to execute the right play. We’ll be better at all of that. The kids are a year older and have been through situations like that before, so I expect there to be growth in that area.”
Lapel opens the season playing host to Anderson at home, starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24.