With slew of returnees, is Ephrata ready to challenge?

By on December 7, 2016
Ephrata senior Micah Krauter is one of seven players returning to the mix for the Mounts.

Ephrata senior Micah Krauter is one of seven players returning to the mix for the Mounts.

Ephrata made a lot of progress a season ago under first-year Coach Charlie Fisher. Now the Mounts hope to take that next step which, if they do, could ultimately lead them to a playoff spot come late January.

The Mounts were just 3-19 last year, which actually was one less win than the year before. But, anyone who watched this team saw that they were a bucket away here, a defensive stop there, from a completely different end result.

Case in point: Ephrata was in nearly every game well into the fourth quarter, and saw 11 of its losses decided by nine points or less. If they can figure out how to win those games in the end, the sky could be the limit for the Mounts in 2016-17.

While they must replace last year’s leading scorer Matt McGillan, the Mounts return virtually everyone else to the mix.

McGillan’s younger brother Zack (6-2), just a sophomore, as well as three-year starting senior Micah Krauter (6-3), head a list of seven players who saw significant minutes for Ephrata a season ago. Krauter is the top returning starter averaging 8.4 points per contest last year while the younger McGillan scored 7.0 points per night.

Those two, along with fellow returnees Brad DaBella (6-4, Jr.), Brendan Holbritter (6-1, Jr.), Larson Kopp (6-5, Sr.), point guard Dilyn Becker (5-10, Jr.) and Sam Cable (6-1, Jr.) provide the nucleus of a very solid, rounded group for Fisher in his second season at the helm.

While Cable is out indefinitely after ankle surgery, Garden Spot transfer Raine Slovak (5-6, Sr.) is an added piece who should be able to step right in and contribute as well.

If Ephrata figures out how to win those tight games they let get away a year ago, the Mounts may have the pieces to compete for an L-L and District playoff spot.

But it certainly won’t be easy, especially after L-L re-alignment cut sections down from four to three. Joining the Mounts, Solanco, Garden Spot and E-town in Section Two will be former Section Three heavyweights Cocalico, Lampeter-Strasburg, Manheim Central and Donegal.

Ephrata opens the season Friday night at the Exeter Tip-Off tournament. The Mounts face the host team at 7:30 p.m.

Recently, Review Sports Editor Todd Ruth sat down with Fisher to discuss what figures to be a very exciting season for the Purple and Gold.

The following is a transcript of their conversation:

Todd Ruth: You guys are coming off a season in which you went 3-19, but that’s hard for me to believe because I saw you in so many games. I thought you made a ton of progress. What were your feelings on your first season at Ephrata?

Charlie Fisher: Eleven games, but we did make some progress. The season ended and you sit and reflect. I told the guys coming back, I said, “we can’t be fixated on the record. We need to look at where we were.” I replay some game situations in my mind over the course of the summer and you think, (if) this happens, this happens, this happens, you are looking at a totally different situation. And you are talking about one or two plays in every game, but the problem is those plays didn’t go our way a majority of the time, so that’s definitely what we are looking at this year.

Are we going to be in the situation to win a game? Can we do what it takes to win a game? The winning part is the hardest thing there is in sports. The competing part is nowhere near as hard as getting the win, so that’s the thing….can we conquer that? Can we conquer that? That’s what we’ve been working on all summer.

TR: The one game that stands out to me was the Manheim Central game, where you guys had a double-digit lead on them and you couldn’t break their press and couldn’t hold on. That was early but you win that game, who knows?

CF: I know. It’s one of those things…it’s small things like that. We work on breaking the press and we work on controlling pressure, and we’ll play music really loud in the gym and scream at them, just trying to get them to be calm. I emphasize that to them but at the time it’s not easy for a high school kid…why is coach getting on me? Why is coach always coming at me? I told them the other day, I said “guys, our goal is for you to think practice is crazy and intense, so that when a game rolls around, it’s natural. It’s easy. That’s the thing we’ve really been working on. Can we handle that?

TR: The good news is you were playing with so many young guys who are back and now have that varsity experience.

CF: It’s a great core. We are looking at about an eight-man rotation. Of those eight, five have almost season-long varsity experience from last year. Three were varsity from Day One. Sam Cable would be our ninth, but we don’t have him right now. He is out to be determined. His progress is great, but he’s day to day. He’s making a good recovery, and it would be great to have him back but we just don’t know. He had to get surgery…the ankle is almost healed but just when the physical therapist or doctor deems him that he’s ready for live sports, literally we have no idea. It’s not like we have January 15 circled. We just don’t know.

TR: Last year you were trying to implement your system at this point and just getting started. How much further ahead are you compared to last year?

CF: A ton…we are way further ahead than we were last year. We are making tremendous progress. There is a system in now, these things aren’t new. We were able to put in new motions, new sets…we were able to build off that foundation that we put out there last year. Like I said we have eight guys, and seven of the eight played in varsity basketball games last year. Five of those eight were major factors for us down the stretch of the season so we are way further than we were at this time last year, and our goals have changed tremendously. It’s one of those things that we are going to put the pieces together to see if we can establish something here, and keep it here.

TR: Well, after two weeks of practice, what are your thoughts on where your team is heading into Friday’s opener?

CF: We have a lot of intensity. We need to be physical when we go into games…we have to be the tougher team. We have to be the team that is going to bring the intensity, bring the physicality. We are running our sets, running our motions and getting better at looking for good shots…getting good possessions and guys are comfortable…we have definitely made progress from one step to the next.

TR: Glancing at your roster, it really is a good mix. You have guys who can handle the ball, some shooters and a little bit of size. It’s kind of a perfect mix, agree?

CF: Yes. It’s one of those things when we look at it, we do have shooters, and we have size across the board. We don’t have someone that you look at and say, “man that dude’s huge.” But we’re solid height-wise across the top and we are going to get some mismatches in difference situations. Us not having that huge guy will put us in some mismatches as well but we are scrappy, we’re strong, so that’s something that hopefully the guys can see. And that’s going to be the biggest issue of them all— can the guys recognize that we are these things, and go out there and do it every night? As cliché as it is, good teams know how to do it on a regular basis. Are we able to get over that hump that we aren’t just doing it for 18, 22, 25 minutes…and are we able to do it every single night?

TR: You have a limited number of seniors so I would assume you are leaning heavily on them for leadership purposes?

CF: Exactly. We say in practice that there needs to be vocal leaders. If the young guys are flat, who is going to step in and pick them up? Who is going to get the intensity going? Who is going to talk on the court? We are getting there, but the guys are still trying to figure that out.

TR: Let’s look at the personnel, starting in the backcourt.

CF: Our straight guards would be Dilyn Becker, Raine Slovak and Brendan Holbritter. Those guys would just have the guard label. And then you are looking at Zack McGillan, Brad DaBella and Micah Krauter, who also can fill the role of guards. They can shoot it, they can handle the ball but they will also be asked to play inside. That’s six, and then we have Xavian Rodriguez (6-2, So.) and Larson Kopp, who would be our bigs on a consistent basis. And then when we get Sam back he would be one of those guard-forwards. That right now is our rotation but we do have some other guys that we’d like to see get in the mix, but that’s where we are right now.

TR: Micah Krauter is the real veteran of the group. What are your expectations from him?

CF: Micah’s biggest thing is can he accept the role of being the guy? When he’s on the floor, can he handle the pressure of being the guy? And the only way we can figure that out is to go out and play. We have confidence in Micah, but we need to see on Friday, is he going to be the guy that says, “Hey, I can score, I can handle things?” We have all the confidence in the world in Micah, being that he is a senior. In that sense, we are asking a lot from him, but at the same time, we are asking from everybody. We will put situations on Micah’s shoulders but we talk to guys like Dilyn and Brad and Zack. “You guys played almost 22 games at the varsity level so you need to be leaders. You are not sophomores and juniors…you are guys that we need to step up.” The biggest thing that I focus on, and I’ll say this regardless of what sport I play or coach, you never can look in the future because you never know what is going to happen. We constantly get the point across that we are playing for right now. Even if you are a junior or sophomore or the lone freshman that we have up, “are you playing for right now?” And that’s the big thing. And going back to Micah, he now has that senior urgency. Larson has the senior urgency, Raine has the senior urgency. (Manheim Central Coach Chris) Sherwood always says seniors win games. And those three seniors are going to play like this is it. And there will be games where we are relying on them to win games.

TR: I thought Dilyn Becker really grew as a point guard as the season went on last year. What are your thoughts on the progress he’s made?

CF: Definitely. Dilyn’s biggest thing is last year he came in and wasn’t really a point guard but we kind of asked him to be. He’s been progressing in that role. We want Dilyn to be a facilitator. We told Dilyn that he needs to control the game. He needs to make sure guys are in the right spots and make sure we are organized, and that’s a big role. And he’s been doing a great job. When he plays his best, he’s pretty tough. He’s a good player. The biggest thing is, and this is across the board as a team and individuals, can we put it together for an entire game? We’ll find out real quick.

TR: What do you consider your team’s strengths?

CF: Defense was our strength last year. We relied on our defense, and we are going to have to rely on our defense at times this year too. Can we end possessions? Can we do the things that we need to do to keep ourselves in ball games against better teams, and put lesser teams away? As far as our strengths on the offensive end, we are starting to look for better shots. And as small of a thing that that is, and the common fan doesn’t notice it as much, but one of our strengths is slowly starting to become that we are not just shooting that first good look. We are looking for a great look, and this has been a strength for about a week. This is not something that we have been good at for long periods of time. This is something that over the past week, guys have really started to buy in, and that is going to be something that we will rely on. Are we doing what we need to do to give that extra pass and have that good possession when we need it? And that goes hand-in-hand with our defense. We are physical, we play tight defense, we are communicating and getting the rebounds…let’s not throw it away with one quick shot down at the other end. And that’s hard for a high school kid to understand. You don’t want them to think stall, because then they won’t look (to score) so that’s the thing that we’ve really been working on. Right now, it’s definitely becoming a strength. It still needs improvement, but we are going to need those good possessions.

TR: Is getting over the hump the biggest thing that needs to happen for your team to get to where it wants to be?

CF: Yes…100 percent. We saw last year we had glimpses where we were going on 10-0 runs against teams. We were in games late against teams that were much better than us. But when you look back at all those games, there was about a six, seven minute stretch where we didn’t do anything. That’s what is going to get us over the hump. Can we put it together? Can we get a good possession? Can we get a defensive rebound? Can we execute a play? It’s those small, tiny things that are the difference between you being up four late, or down four late. And that was the problem last year. As close as we were, for the most part in those 11 games, we were down two or four, and we needed that big shot…Can we be up two or four and get the big stop? It’s those small things that are going to make the difference.

TR: What is the potential of this team as far as the end result is concerned?

CF: Ephrata hasn’t had a winning season since I was a senior in high school. It was the 2005 year. That was the last time that Ephrata had more wins than losses. We want to win games. We don’t want to win four games and say we were better than last year. We want to be in a situation, and our section is brutal, but we want to win games. And we want to go to the playoffs. We want it to be at the end of January and we are playing for something. If I told you we didn’t talk about that I’d be lying to you. We do talk about it…our goal this year is come the end of January, are we playing for something? And if the answer to that is, yes, then we are in the situation that we want to be in. That’s our goal. Come the end of January, are we in a situation where we are competing on the road and we need to get a win? Or we are home and we need to protect our home court? It’s not if we win this game that gets us to .500. No, if we win that game that gets us one step closer to the playoffs, and that’s what our goal is. Everybody in the gym has that goal that come the end of January, we want to be playing for something.

TR: You mentioned the section, what’s that going to be like on a daily basis? Do you see anyone as the favorite?

CF: It’s brutal. It is tough. There are a lot of good coaches…If I’m picking a favorite, maybe Manheim? I would say they are the favorite but L-S won Section Three last year and they have Ben Sandberg back and their JV team was unstoppable last year. I don’t know if there is a favorite, to be honest with you. And Sherwood teaches around the corner from me down the hall (at Manheim Central), and we talk all of the time. This section is tough. You have a Division One player down at Solanco (Dylan Hastings). They are going to be as fluid as fluid can be. You have (St. Joseph’s commit) Taylor Funk at Manheim Central, and they have their whole team back. Cocalico has Trynosky, E-town lost a lot and is young, but Coach Parise I know well. He was a heck of a player at E-town, and that’s a guy when you look across the court you know he’s going to have his team prepared. Garden Spot puts up points with the best of them, and Donegal is always tough, competitive…it’s just going to be tough every single night, and we fall in there too. You got to be ready to play.

TR: Do you like the new section format?

CF: It’s much better. You don’t have the crossovers, which killed Section Two teams. I love the alignment right now. These two years we have to enjoy it and play these neighborhood teams. I mean for the most part these schools are right next to each other, and we are all 5A so it’s not like we are playing big schools and small schools. We are all 5A, we are all going to be cheering for each other come post-season time. It’s going to be a nice feel in Section Two. Top to bottom, every team has their strengths. It’s one of those things, can we be ready for that? Can we be ready to battle? I guess we’ll see.

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