SOUTH WHITLEY — Expectations are high as a new season is on the horizon in South Whitley.
Last year’s team ended its season in the sectional championship game, and with the defeat came the loss of a solid senior class led by All-Stater Logan Irwin. The dynamic graduate, who is now playing basketball at Stetson University, left as the all-time leading scorer in Whitko history, helped Whitko to 58 wins in the past four years and guided the Wildcats to a regional finals appearance in 2009.
In addition to losing Logan, then-head coach Rob Irwin left to take the same position down the road at Huntington North. The future for Whitko basketball looked a little murky.
Enter Scott Wessel.
Wessel was hired this offseason after serving as an assistant at Lafayette Jefferson. The first-year head coach brings with him a winning attitude that should deliver a nice follow-up to the Wildcat’s 13-win campaign last season.
Knowing he was dealt an inexperienced roster, Wessel says the focus this season will be on the defensive side of the ball. The coach offered very little in the way of player detail, preferring to focus on the team rather than individuals.
“Defensively we have to be a team and stop people or we’re not going to compete, that’s something we’re really working on,” Wessel said.
Whitko fans will be able to see how tough the defense is early on in the season. The Wildcats have several strong opponents early on that will help shape what kind of team they will be. Early match-ups with Columbia City, Wawasee and rival Tippy Valley, which combined for 43 wins and all beat Whitko a season ago, will put this young team’s defense to the test right away.
The boys also host a Leo squad November 24th (Friday night) that put up an eye-popping 107 points on the Wildcats last season. Next week on November 30th, 3A No. 5 and state runners-up Norwell comes to South Whitley to provide another tough defensive match-up. This will be the first game these two have played since Norwell downed Whitko 78-48 in the 2011 sectional title game.
Offensively, Wessel says he does not want to see his boys force anything, “We’re looking to be patient and get stops at the other end, offensively we will be as patient as we need to be and get the shot we want every time.”
As for the always daunting Three Rivers Conference schedule, the young coach showed that he only expects improvement upon the team’s 5-2 TRC from last season with the understanding his roster has a different makeup than the previous years.
“I definitely think we can beat or compete with every team in our conference,” Wessel said. “I thought coming in we could compete in conference. That’s our goal every year no matter who is coming back or who is coming up. Our goal is to compete in conference every year.”
And when asked if he thought his team would be able to compete with the likes of Norwell and the other talent that the Class 3-A Sectional 23 has to offer, Wessel was very blunt simply stating, “No question.”
Wessel and the boys tip-off their 2012 campaign with a battle for Whitley County as they travel to Columbia City Wednesday night to face the Eagles. Last season, Whitko fell to Columbia City 61-41 in the season opener and have not beaten the Eagles since the 2009 season. The varsity squads are set to start at approximately 7:45 p.m.