PREP HOOPS: Can Woodlan find its groove in second half of season?

Woodlan coach Dave Randall is hoping his team can find consistency and compete for a second-consecutive ACAC regular-season title. (News-Sentinel file photo)

After an ACAC Tournament title and a shared regular-season league championship with Heritage a year ago, many believed Woodlan was a favorite to repeat those feats in 2018.

Turns out, the Warriors have a long way to go to equal the competitiveness of last year’s team.

Following a loss to Heritage to open the ACAC Tournament earlier this week, the Warriors are 3-5 overall and still in search of consistency and proven scoring behind senior standout Aaron Hahn.

“We don’t do the little things,” said Woodlan coach Dave Randall when asked what his team’s issues are. “We have stretches where we don’t run our (offensive sets). There are stretches where we get hurt on the boards. Sometimes our shot selection isn’t good.

“We just have those little lulls.”

To be fair, Randall has had to mesh plenty of youth into this year’s lineup with the loss of some pretty good players. Austin Fancher (14.1 points per game last year), Deontae Biggs (8.5 ppg) and Josh Gerig (5.0 ppg) all graduated a season ago, while Trevon McCarter and Jack Rhoades, two players that provided depth as juniors, are not playing as seniors.

That turnover has accelerated the development needed out of a number of sophomores who are seeing significant varsity playing time, including Mitch Mendenhall and Trevor Wiedenhoeft.

But don’t expect Randall to point to youth to explain the Warriors’ struggles.

“I don’t want to use that as an excuse, our sophomores are talented kids,” Randall said. “Aaron (Hahn) is going to have four guys attached to him all night. We have just got to find a better way to play when teams try and take him out of the game. That’s when the trust thing comes in.”

Despite the struggles, Woodlan controls its destiny in the ACAC race. It has won its first two conference games outside of the league tournament, including a win at a solid Adams Central team. A rematch against Heritage on Jan. 19 and a trip to Jay County in late February are the two keys for Woodlan and another league crown.

Due to several games being rescheduled because of football’s run to the state championship game, the Warriors have a backloaded schedule. Randall’s squad will play 13 games over the final six weeks of the regular season, including several three-game weeks.

That is good in terms of making up some ground in the win column, but not so good when it comes to being able to work on things in practice.

“It comes to where you are rescheduling games and you only have two choices, and you’re adding Saturday games when you play twice already (that week),” Randall said. “It is what it is. I often say kids put up with practices so they can play games.”

The hope is that Woodlan will be able to play improved basketball over the next dozen or so games with a mix of Hahn, fellow seniors Ah’lan Howard and Micah Robbins and a host of underclassmen.

“We are going through the same thing (Heritage coach) Barry Singrey went through a few years, now they are a very good team,” Randall said. “The good thing is, next year we will have five or six kids back with varsity experience who will only be juniors.”