Despite heavy losses, Eagles hope to contend

By on December 5, 2012

Oliver Denlinger is Cocalico's lone returning starter. (Review file photo)

There is a lot of excitement coming out of Denver on the eve of the boys’ basketball season.

For one, while the Eagles lost some talent to graduation from their 7-15 squad of a year ago (4-12 Section Two), they will put an athletic team on the floor that has the potential to evolve into a pretty solid squad as the season unfolds.

Secondly, Cocalico has built a new Nest, and as they move across the hall to the new gym, this team definitely has their sights set on continuing the Eagle tradition, built by past teams, in their new digs.

But before that, Cocalico must find a way to replace several key players from a year ago, including their top four leading scorers in Christian Graybill (10.2 ppg), Ryan Schweitzer (7.3), Joey Becker (7.1) and Mitch Denlinger (6.5).

The good news is guard Oliver Denlinger (6.1), a sharp shooter who really came on down the stretch a year ago with 30 three-pointers on the year, returns to head a group of six quality seniors, all of whom saw floor time a season ago. Add to that a slew of juniors and at least one talented freshman and the Eagles should be a force in Section Two once they get some games under their collective belts.

Recently, Ephrata Review Sports Editor Todd Ruth caught up with seven-year Head Coach Travis Wealand to discuss the upcoming season. The following is a transcript of that conversation.

Todd Ruth: Through a week and a half, are you pleased with their progress in the early going?

Travis Wealand: So far so good. We have a really nice group of kids this year. They really like to compete and they really enjoy each other. You can just tell at practice, with the mood of our practices and how competitive they are…We are definitely inexperienced as far as varsity time is concerned but I like the way they are starting to gel together. It’s a great group of kids and they have been a lot of fun to coach so far.

TR: You did lose quite a lot of talent off of last year’s squad. I guess Oliver is the lone starter returning. Is that correct?

TW: Yeah, Oliver started toward the end of the season. He’s the only returner but Spencer Moser (3.0) had some varsity time and some of the other guys had a little bit of time, here or there. Oliver would definitely be the guy with the most experience coming back.

TR: One thing I notice is you really have a nice guard mix, as well as some nice bigs. Is that how you see it?

TW: We can actually put six different guys in different groups. We have three groups of six that we work with at practice. We basically have a guard group, one that has both guard and forward skills, and then the other one is the forwards. It’s nice to be able to split up like that and be able to fine tune things according to their skills. It’s really a year that’s kind of different because some years we are heavy with guards, or heavy bigs but this year it’s a pretty nice mix.

TR: I also noticed you have quite a number of football players. While their post season success probably hindered what you could do in practice in the early going, those guys are used to winning so I would think that would carry over onto the basketball court.

TW: We have nine football guys out of our 18. And two of our younger players are freshman, who were also football players but played Jr. High so they were ready to go at the beginning. But technically, more than half of our team were football players so it’s definitely taking a little time, just like in most years, to gel and get our basketball legs back and our lungs back. But the thing that’s great about these football guys is they were ready to go right away. They wanted to be there, they came and participated and some of them jumped into drills right away.

As for their winning carrying over, yeah, we always talk about the winning breeding winning (at Cocalico). We talk amongst the coaching staffs. We are pretty close in communication with the football staff. We try to do things together as far as coordinating programs so that really helps to be on the same page as a faculty and a staff. I think Cocalico does a real good job with that across the board. We are all in it for each other. We want all of our programs to be good.

TR: Let’s talk about your personnel. You have six seniors on this year’s team. Tell me a little about each one.

TW: Well, with Oliver we look for leadership from him on the court. He’s a really good competitor and I think he’s going to be a really good player to watch in our section. I think he’ll do a nice job. Shea Evans (6-foot-3) is a guy that we look to play inside, rebound, set some good screens and do what he can around the rim. He has some athletic ability and we look at him for things down low.

(Guard/forward) Brock Gosling (6-0) is just a natural competitor. He has one gear and it’s 100 percent. We think he’s going to be a good player for us defensively and offensively setting things up, and being a good teammate. (G/F) Wes Rathman was hurt this past summer but is on the court again which is nice. He’s been making some nice progress. He’s kind of an in-between player because he has a little bit of size, but he also has some guard skills. He’ll be in the mix. (F) Zack Rissler (6-0) is someone who was out because of an injury last year. He is much improved. He’s worked really hard. They all have great attitudes but Zach has done a nice job of working with the younger kids and sharing things like that. He’s an undersized big for us but he knows how to score around the block and he can also give us some outside scoring as well.

And we have Lucas DiCiano back. He’s a new face who played for us a while back and now he’s 6-2 so it’s nice to have someone who knows the terminology of previous years. He’s one of those kids we look to to give us more depth at our big spot. He’s long and pretty athletic.

TR: Your junior group has an equally-nice blend of depth and various abilities. Tell me about them.

TW: We have Casey Kerschner, another football player who is doing a nice job underneath. He’s 6-1 but he’s very strong. He’ll be doing a lot of rebounding, he’s a good screener and a very good teammate. Mitch Deering is a guard who can shoot. He also likes to handle the ball. He’s a guy who really improved his strength and you can definitely see that on the court. (F) Zach Eberly (6-4) improved tremendously over the past year. He has more of a feel around the basket. He’s able to shoot foul line jumpers, that kind of thing.

(G) Spencer Moser, who I mentioned before, has great potential to be a good defender this year. He can shoot on the perimeter and is just real quick. He might be a tough match-up for some. (G) Mitch Shober just brings tenacious attitude. He’s really good on defense and just really likes to impact the game with whatever needs to be done. He’s one of those guys who will take a charge when you need it, get that loose ball…He’s a spark for us. And the last guy is Constantin Lutz, who is a German exchange student. He’s a guy all the kids enjoy. It’s amazing to see how fast he can pick up things and learn.

TR: I know you have one freshman we need to talk about. Tell me about (G) Tucker Lescoe and how he’ll fit in.

TW: Tucker Lescoe is going to make a big impact on our varsity team. He’s a good ball-handler and he can shoot well. He knows what to do and works really hard in the off-season to be as good as he can. We are looking for big things from him.

TR: With all of these newcomers, while you have a lot of options, is lack of experience your biggest concern right now?

TW: Definitely our experience is going to be a piece to the puzzle. The thing with that is we know we have guys who can step in and fill the roles, and we know that they understand the terminology of what we try to do. It’s just a matter of getting them that game experience. They all were very committed this summer. They worked really hard but obviously the summer doesn’t necessarily translate to the same kind of pressure games that you have during the season. Getting varsity experience I think will initially be a factor but then again all these guys have played in pressure-packed moments in other sports so that will definitely benefit us too.

TR: What are your team goals heading into 2012-13?

TW: We always have high expectations, and every year I say the same thing. Obviously our goals are always to compete for the section, qualify for Districts and advance. These guys have a lot of positives in front of them. I think our section, we’ll see how it falls but I think a lot of teams lost quite a lot to graduation last year, and if we work hard enough we hope to be in the mix at the end.

TR: How do you see the section playing out?

TW: E-town would be the pick but CV always plays tough and is always in the hunt. Solanco is always in the mix, and Ephrata with their coach there for a couple years will have more consistency, and they have some talent coming back…All section games are always difficult, but I think most of the people would probably pick E-town.

TR: We still have to talk about the new gym. What is it going to be like playing in that beautiful new facility?

TW: We talked to the kids this year about being the first team to play in the gym and the type of product we want to put out there on the floor for people to see. These guys are a part of history. Just like last year’s group was the team that closed the old gym, this year’s opens up the new gym. There’s a lot of pride in that and it’s a pretty neat thing for them. I know they like it. It just builds a very positive atmosphere and we are just really excited to get it started.

TR: It starts Friday night at home against Daniel Boone. That’s a pretty good test right off the bat.

TW: They have a nice team and they have quite a few really athletic and talented kids. It will be a tough opener for our kids, but we’ll be in our new gym, and we are extremely excited about having a new place to play and we are excited to see the people show up at the Nest. More COCALICO BOYS, page B-6

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