Lake ready to compete with Fed heavyweights

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

LAKE TWP. Every winter, the battle for the Federal League boys basketball crown is one of the most exciting, competitive shows in town.

So this winter, even if the stands can't be packed with the normal sellout crowds that make the league's contests among the loudest and rowdiest around, the Lake Blue Streaks are eager to get into the ring and contend for the crown. Veteran head coach Tom McBride has seen and been a part of some of the biggest Federal League battles of recent memory – Lake-Jackson games especially have yielded a wealth of memorable moments – and knows that going from standing room-only crowds to much smaller attendance figures due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be a major shift.

Lake head coach Tom McBride celebrates the Blue Streaks' 2017 Division I district championship victory over Warren Harding. The Blue Streaks look to get back to the top of Federal League and make another tournament run this season.

"We've talked a lot about having to create our own energy. I think we're going to be able to have a maximum of about 300 fans for any game home or away, as well as no jazz band and no (Lake) cheerleaders on the road," McBride said. "It's going to be a much different atmosphere and I think, especially in the first few games, it's going to be a work in progress. We could come out and it could shock us all a bit early, because we're used to having a really great, loud crowd."

While the Blue Streaks won't have their normal home crowd, they will have a group of experienced, talented veterans returning to spearhead their efforts to dethrone reigning league champion Green and battle the likes of Jackson and Canton McKinley.

Junior guard J.J. Vaughan may only be in his third year of high school basketball, but has been a contributor since his freshman season and has played in quite a few big games. His shooting figures to be a key component of the Lake attack and according to his coach, Vaughan has worked on other areas of his game leading into his junior campaign.

"He's done a nice job putting weight and gaining strength in a positive way, and developing that part of his game," McBride said.

Alongside Vaughan is junior guard Cam Horning, a player who can function with the ball in his hands or off the ball, depending on the lineup. With the duo of Vaughan and Horning anchoring the back court, Lake should have a good foundation on the offensive end of the court.

They'll be balanced out by a front court that includes seniors with size in the form of 6-foot-7 post player Ty Stadulis and 6-foot-3 forward Joe Evans, both of whom will be counted on to do battle with the talented front lines across the Federal League. While smaller teams have shown they can compete in the league, many of its most successful campaigns of late have come from teams with multiple players 6-foot-3 or taller.

McBride conceded that it's "really nice" to have some size on the front line, as well as having an athlete like senior Bryce Snow back with the program after not coming out for the team last season. Add in sophomore guard Caleb Collins, who will see time at point guard, and the Blue Streaks have the makings of a solid rotation they hope will continue to develop and progress as the year wears on.

In a typical year, some of that progress would have transpired over the summer and into the fall, but COVID has largely disrupted the schedule and slowed the development process.

"It really hurt not having a normal summer to continue to emphasize the basics of our program, so we've had to spend a lot of the preseason going back over the basics," McBride said. "Also, like other teams with quarantine, we've been missing pockets of kids for periods of time and that makes it tough to have continuity."

That lack of continuity seems likely to continue to some level throughout the season as positive COVID tests within schools and teams could force the postponement or cancellation of contests, some at the last minute. While there is no way to predict or control if and when those schedule changes happen, the fall sports season illustrated how the pandemic can force changes at a moment's notice.

"Our only experience I can draw from is that we have had games in the past where I thought we were really ready for them called off due to a snow day or an ice-out kind of situation," McBride said. "So drawing back on that experience of those three or four games where the plug was pulled is the best I can do. This year, you could go to four o'clock the day of the game and find out you're not playing."

On those days, the veteran coach wants to see his team draw on their team-building efforts and camaraderie to stay in a positive frame of mind and not get down about missing a game. He noted that in his experience, kids tend to be more resilient than adults, but also admitted that the sure-to-be-irregular schedule will be a challenge for everyone.

The season is slated to begin Dec. 1 with a home game against Dover and following an uncertain, off-kilter offseason, being able to tip off the year and get back to competing is a measure of success in and of itself.