NEW FRANKLIN Manchester entered its campaign with high hopes and expectations, but things haven't panned out so far as a slow start and injuries have kept the team from hitting its goals.
Still, after last Saturday's 90-56 triumph over Mansfield Temple Christian, the Panthers stepped into the second half of the season with a 7-5 overall mark, including a 2-2 record in Principals Athletic Conference play.
Those numbers aren’t what head coach Gene Schindewolf had in mind, but after having a few members of the roster arrive on the court later than normal due to the football team’s postseason run, there is hope that the best is still to come.
"We thought, we would be better the first half of the season as far as our record, but with our late start and many injuries we had, we are probably about where we should be," Schindewolf said. "It took us a long time to get into a rotation because of the slow start. Right now, we're playing together, playing and practicing very hard and as a result we are seeing good results."
Seeking to turn some of the early negatives into a positive, Schindewolf noted that some of the early adversity Manchester endured could pay dividends as the year progresses.
"Having guys hurt gave other players a chance to step up and they did," he noted. "That gave us a deeper bench that has really helped us."
Schindewolf, who is nearing 500 career victories (480-333 in 38 years), believes his team will have to play much better defensively in the second half of the season if they want to make a run at their first conference title (2004-05) in more than a decade. The team is allowing nearly 60 points per outing through the first half of the season, a number that will need to decline for the Panthers to pile on wins more consistently.
Still, the first half of the season produced a few high points, including a victory over Waynedale (84-74), and a successful road trip to the East Liverpool Holiday Classic tournament.
"Our win over Waynedale was a good one," praised Schindewolf. "They are leading the Wayne County League. We also had a nice trip to East Liverpool. It was a nice to get away, and stay together as a team, and just have some fun together."
Entering the year, the senior class was expected to be a solidifying force and for the most part, that has been true. Van Wallbrown, Jo Jo France, Nick Beans and the rest of the seniors have helped lead the Panthers to a winning record, but there have also been contributions from underclassmen such as junior Sam Hettich and sophomore Ethan Wright.
Hettich and Wright had to get healthy before being able to make a bigger impact and Beans has been a strong rebounding presence in the low post. Schindewolf also praised the bench play of newcomers Gabe Sharrock and Cameron Adkins, who have helped bolster Manchester’s depth.
France leads the team in several offensive categories with 19.6 point per game, assists (3.8) and steals (2.7), while Wallbrown is averaging 13.6 points, and 5.1 rebounds and Beans tallies 12.8 points and averages a team-high 6.5 boards per contest.
With just a few weeks left before tournament play begins and the league title still up for grabs, Schindewolf feels his team is in good position to finish strong and make its presence felt in the league race and beyond.
"Every league game is big since we need to stay close to the top, and hope for some upsets. In order to make that happen we need to keep improving on the defensive end. If that keeps happening, we can stay in the league race and make a nice tournament run," he said.
While the year may not have started the way they wanted, the Panthers still have time to write a better conclusion to the story if they can make good on the potential they flashed entering the season.