Obstacles made LHS boys stronger
I have to admit, I wasn't too surprised when at the start of basketball season Lansing High junior David Kern told me he expected the Lions to contend for the Kaw Valley League championship this year.
I wasn't surprised he said it - after following Kern and most of his fellow juniors during football season I quickly discovered this was one confident bunch - but I didn't exactly believe his prophecy would come true.
There were too many obstacles to overcome for a team with only two returning starters and zero seniors on the roster. There was too great of a learning curve that needed to be met, and given the fact that KVL foes such as Bonner Springs and Piper were loaded this year, it seemed like a long shot that the Lions actually would win the league this year.
Still, I liked the attitude. I liked the confidence Kern conveyed when he said it. It told me this team wouldn't back down when it was forced to deal with adversity this year - and there was plenty of adversity, to be sure.
For starters, the was the obvious lack of depth because none of the Lions' reserves had played varsity basketball before. There also was the lack of size - of Lansing's regular players, the tallest were 6-foot-2 forwards Kern and Jeff Slater.
It was evident very early that depth and size would be nearly insurmountable obstacles, starting with Lansing's first loss of the season, a 68-39 setback to a Topeka Seaman team whose shortest starter was 6-foot-3. Vertical problems also gave the Lions trouble in losses to Basehor-Linwood, Perry-Lecompton and Mill Valley.
The depth problem reared its ugly head numerous times, as well, such as in the Mill Valley losses and defeats to Piper and Bonner Springs.
Despite the steady flow of adversity, this group never cracked. It was stubborn at times and was unwilling to change its ways for a while, but eventually the Lions were willing to learn from their mistakes, make adjustments and respond.
They changed their offensive strategy and transitioned from a run-and-gun squad to a patient, snail-paced team. It might not have been as pretty to watch at times, but it was what they had to do to give them a competitive edge. Some may not have liked the change, but it was the smartest thing the Lions could have done.
Chris Wagner asserted himself more on the offensive end of the court and became an all-around scoring threat. Matt Warner was one of Lansing's top rebounders during the final six games. Cody Mohan did a better job distributing the ball. Jeff Jackson showed steady progress at both ends of the court and played with more confidence.
Wins didn't always come - LHS was 2-5 in its final seven games - but the Lions were without a doubt more competitive and had a chance to win every one of those games in the final minutes. The Immaculata loss came in double-overtime. The Bishop Ward game went to overtime. Lansing trailed Gardner by four points with three minutes left.
The Lions put themselves in position to win every single one of those games. That's the most important thing to take from it, too. The fact of the matter was that they peaked at the end of the season. They showed progress. They understood what they needed to do and how hard they had to work to make it happen.
Now do yourself a favor and forget about the 14 losses. They're in the past and it's not likely that they'll be repeated again next year. The entire team will return as a smarter, wiser, more experienced bunch.
The Lions also should have a chip on their shoulder after this season and feel like they have plenty to prove.
Next fall I plan to ask Kern again how he expects the Lions to do, and I fully anticipate him giving me the exact same answer. I again won't be surprised when he says it, but this time I'll believe every word of it.
- Chris Wristen's column appears weekly on the blogs page at lansingcurrent.com, as well as occasionally in print.