Under Fisher, Mounts look to turn the corner

By on December 2, 2015

Charlie Fisher helped Manheim Central build a championship program. And now the former Barons’ assistant will look to do the same at Ephrata.

The first-year head coach takes over at Ephrata for Jason Coletti, who stepped down back in February after four seasons, following a tough 4-18 campaign.

What Fisher brings to the table is not only that winning pedigree, but an intense, enthusiasm to go with it.

Fisher seems determined to turn things around for the Mounts, and he has a few nice pieces to perhaps speed up the rebuilding process.

Ephrata returns three players who saw varsity action a year ago, including senior Matt McGillan, who burst onto the scene last year and averaged 17.3 points per contest.

Being one of just two seniors, McGillan will be the unquestionable leader of the Mounts. But returning guards Micah Krauter (6-2) and Sam Cable (6-0) give the Mounts some added experience to help their young squad along.

As far as newcomers are concerned, senior Nate Fassnacht leads that group. A baseball star at Ephrata who is heading to Division One George Washington University in the fall, Fassnacht should give Fisher quality minutes when he returns from a pre-season injury.

Others looking to make an impact on the varsity squad will include: junior big man Larson Kopp (6-5); scrappy junior guard Jory Hagen (5-10); junior Brad DaBella (6-3); and 6-0 freshman Zach McGillan (Matt’s brother).

Ephrata does have a brutal schedule in the opening two weeks as the Mounts will face defending Section Three champ Manheim Central, back-yard rival Cocalico before facing Section One heavyweights Penn Manor, Cedar Crest and McCaskey in succession.

If the Mounts can get through that stretch with some confidence, look for them to open some eyes when Section Two play roles around.

Recently, Ephrata Review Sports Editor Todd Ruth caught up with Fisher to discuss the upcoming season, his first guiding the purple and gold.

The following is a transcript of that conversation:

Todd Ruth: Through two weeks of your first camp at Ephrata, what are your early impressions of your team?

Charlie Fisher: It’s definitely been an intense two weeks. It’s been a transition for the guys getting used to my style, and getting accustomed to what I want to achieve for the program. But at the same time, bringing that team atmosphere in and making our (coaching staff) goals everybody’s goals. And yes we’ve been together since May…we’ve done summer league camps and things like that but getting in the gym every day is new. They are seeing a side of me that they might not necessarily saw over the summer. A more intense side, a more no-joking-around side when we are in the practice realm.

I’m throwing a lot at these guys…a lot of different offenses as far as sets and motions, defenses, preparing, just basics coming off ball screens, away from the ball screens and how to defend that…There is a lot. I said to Coach Sherwood at Manheim Central, we teach together, and I said I feel like I’m preparing these kids for a Keystone algebra exam and I’m only allowed to teach them basic arithmetic. We are trying to prepare them and get them ready for Monday but there is so much to put in. There is so much to do so what we’ve been focusing on, we’ve been focusing on a couple different areas and trying to get really good at those areas, and then have those back up things…things I can use out of a time-out things like that.

We’ve been going hard. Guys have been tired when they leave practice. One thing we’ve been trying to get better at is consistency. Basketball is a game of highs and lows…it’s a game of runs, and we are trying to eliminate those lows more frequently.

TR: Coming in, what are your biggest challenges taking over a program that hasn’t won a lot in recent years? Is it the mental thing?

CF: Totally. We have some skill. We have some young guys interested in playing as far as the intensity level and bringing that every day. But it’s a mindset…it really is. Winning is a mentality. It’s something that doesn’t happen overnight. I’m as competitive as they come, and there is nothing better than winning, at anything, but it’s definitely a mentality, and it’s something that’s about just building that confidence. Every kid in our program got a basketball shirt and on the back of that shirt it says, “confidence.” It’s just being confident in yourself, being confident in your team, because if you have that you are already at an advantage when you step on the floor. Even if you are out-manned, if you think you can win, you are already ahead of the game.

TR: Coming from a Manheim Central program, which has been so successful the last few years. How do you transfer that success you tasted to the Ephrata program?

CF: I mean, it was fun. It was a fun run (at Manheim). And you try to get that to the guys without even winning yet. We haven’t won anything yet. We looked good in the scrimmage here or there or a pick-up game here or there, but until you taste that victory, it’s hearsay. And you need them to buy into this system, which hopefully in return builds a winning program. We definitely have the young guys to help that long term, and you always think long term in the back of your mind, but heading into the season I have two seniors that this is it for them. So we are going to throw everything out that we can and try to win now.

TR: The one senior obviously is Matt McGillan, who really had a coming out party last year. Coming into this year, what are your expectations for him?

CF: We are not so much concerned about the points per game with him, but just being a team leader. When you have a guy on your team like that, teams have to prepare for him. They have to put in some type of game plan in for him and build around that. It’s not necessarily him scoring 15 points a night but can he get into the lane and create shots for other guys? That’s the big thing. He’s a senior now, and seniors play with fire that you can’t teach. They can smell the end, and he’s been playing with fire at practice, and he’s ready. Now it’s just the part of him going through his whole career with one coach, and now we are asking him to do something else. I’ve had this conversation with him. “Matt you have to trust me. You got to trust what I’m putting in is to be what’s best for this program.” We are going to need him. We’ll build around Matt, but we have a lot of role players, and if we are going to win games, they are going to have to step up. You can’t win a game just with one guy. It helps to have that guy, which we do, but we are going to look for our role players to contribute as well.

TR: Are those guys capable of taking some of the pressure off Matt?

CF: As of right now, where we are at, yes. We’ll find out once the bright lights come on. We just talked about this. There are 19 guys on our team and three of them have varsity experience from last year. And we know you play more than three guys in a game, so it’s going to be getting over that initial, whoa…this isn’t JV or ninth grade any more.

TR: Who are some of the other guys you are looking to contribute?

CF: As of right now, Micah Krauter is a returning varsity player. Sam Cable, too…they both have their skills and their strengths as far as their roles on this team. Larson Kopp at 6-5 was a JV player last year. Jory Hagen did not play last year but just brings that intensity that you like. He’s getting that basketball skill back. He’s been out with injury for a good amount of time but he’s starting to get back into it. He brings intensity like no other, and you need that out there. Zach McGillan, Matt’s younger brother is a freshman but is definitely going to step in and play a role for us. Brad DaBella is a sophomore who played JV last year. And Nate Fassnacht is still injured right now and we probably won’t get him back until the end of December. I’m curious to see how he’ll do on the basketball court because he’s built like an athlete. He has that mindset and that mentality that you need. He’s definitely a guy that helps us even if he’s not getting on the floor right now. Just having him in the gym helps a ton. And we have a lot of young guys. There is going to be another freshman coming up and some more sophomores who are just looking to build a program. But those eight guys I mentioned is our key foundation for the varsity team.

TR: You seem to be so enthusiastic and intense. Are these guys feeding off you a little bit?

CF: They are…they are fiery. I think the hard part for them right now is I’m so intense that it’s hard to stay on my level of intensity…it really is. Eventually your players pick up that aspect of the coach and some type of the coach’s personality, and we are definitely becoming more intense and it is fun to watch. It’s just the fact of going those long periods of time, and that’s youth. And it’s also being around a new environment. I’m just hoping that over time the intensity and that hard-nosed type of play can be out and about all of the time.

TR: What are we going to see this year as far as style of play?

CF: We are going to want to get the ball down the floor. We are definitely not going to be a run-and-gun team. But as long as we are running our offense and looking to get good buckets, playing for good shots, definitely that’s going to help us. We are looking to make some noise on defense. We’ve been focusing on that a lot, but that’s one of those things you don’t know until you get into a game. How are we going to respond when a team hits two or three threes in-a-row? How are we going to respond if we are in an eight-point hole? Can we keep that intensity on defense? We are definitely trying to build off our defense. We’ll set our goals with points allowed and things like that but we want to have good possessions, get the ball moving, get the ball inside the lane like any basketball team wants to do but definitely not settling. We don’t want to settle.

TR: What would you consider your strengths as a team right now?

CF: We do look to get to the basket. We definitely look to get to the basket, and defensively they are really picking up on the principles of our defense. And they are playing as a team and they are starting to communicate more. They are bringing more intensity but we definitely, just in the couple weeks here, are seeing more patience in the offensive game. The patience is definitely there.

TR: Is youth and inexperience the biggest thing you need to overcome?

CF: The biggest weakness right now is that inexperience to act under pressure. The second that intensity picks up, are we just going to throw the ball away or are we going to sit there in a triple threat and be confident with the basketball and wait for things to develop? At times we’ll go places where guys just want to get rid of the basketball because of that pressure. That’s definitely an area we need to get better at. That confidence once you have that basketball, do you know what to do with it? Can you read your defender and work off that? It’s building an offense where we are not robots…they are actually out there playing basketball. That’s definitely our biggest weakness.

TR: As far as your first year with the program, what are your overall goals?

CF: Definitely, Goal One, and this is our main goal, when we started November 16, by the time our season’s over, are we better? Are we better basketball players? Are we a better team? Are our philosophies being shown? Is all of that better? Just to make sure that the improvement is there. As far as competitive goals, we have a goal every night. Every night we step on the floor our goal is to win. Our goal is not to keep the game close, our goal is to win. And we talked about that in summer league. We lost a game and I just felt guys were satisfied with the outcome. They played well, but we don’t want them to be satisfied and not to have one of those moral victories. We are not going to go 22-0. That’s not going to happen so yes, we are going to have moral victories within ourselves but if we can instill that mindset that it’s not OK to lose, then that’s going to build that drive for them to want to win. And that’s another goal, to go out every night and say, “hey, we are going to win a basketball game.” We’ll see how the season ends up, and we have our team goals and things like that. But each night, whoever goes on that floor, JV or varsity, we want to win two games. And the same goes for the junior high. You play five basketball games on a given day, and we are going to look for five wins. I talked to my coaching staff about that. Instill the desire to win. Once you get that, the rest can fall into place.

TR: Section Two this year looks to be a battle. Who do you see as the contenders?

CF: Section Two is going to be a dogfight, top to bottom. CV won it last year, and I think they have everybody back. We played Lebanon last year at Manheim Central and we played Garden Spot. I know Garden Spot has guys back, I know E-town has guys returning, Solanco has guys returning…It’s just from top to bottom, it’s going to be competitive. You look at our Section Two games, not even including the crossovers, and it’s not an easy night on any given night. It’s going to be a dogfight. There are going to be games we go in where we are not the favorite. It might be all of them…I’m not sure how people will view that but we are going to go in saying, “hey, let’s compete. Let’s go have fun and play with a chip on our shoulder and let’s see what we can do.” Then you go into those crossovers and you look at those opportunities as stepping stones. We are going to have freshmen and sophomores with no game experience being asked to play Cedar Crest and McCaskey a week into the season. You roll with the punches and you say to these guys, “listen, Cedar Crest is coming to our place…be ready.” You prepare every night and try to win a game. I’m looking forward to Section Two. Every team there has something to offer. It’s cool. That’s what you want out of a section.

TR: I can’t let you go without asking this. Your debut, you get to play your old team. What is that going to be like for you?

CF: On a personal level, I just feel like if I’m going to have my first varsity game, I might as well do it against one of my best friends. In that sense it will be comfortable knowing who we are going against and the coaches on the other side. And that’s going to be really cool. But from my team’s perspective, it’s a game. We said today before ending practice, “A team is coming to play here that played in the District semifinals last year. It doesn’t matter what school it is…They were in the District semifinals playing at the Giant Center, and they are on our home floor for our first game.” For personal reasons, it’s really cool. It’s neat. It gives more fuel to me because you obviously want to beat your friends as bad as you want to beat anybody else, but from our team perspective, we got a tough kid in (Manheim’s) Taylor Funk coming into our gym, a very, very well-coached program. We need to be ready regardless who that team is. It’s going to set us up for a tough start to the season. After that, you go and play Lescoe (Cocalico) and then Penn Manor the next night. And then the following week you got Cedar Crest and McCaskey, and then we begin Section Two play. It hits you quick, and getting a young team ready to go, with a new coach and a new philosophy, you go in with the mentality that “hey, we are going to go out and play as hard as we can, and see what happens.”

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