AKRON – The Tippecanoe Valley boys basketball team is treading some unknown waters this season. After three straight seasons with 16 or more wins, the Vikings are facing a starting lineup this season that does not have much varsity experience.
Players like Tanner Andrews and Nick Kindig have helped to lead the Vikings over the past few season. Andrews is now playing baseball at Purdue while Kindig is playing tennis at Bethel College.
The player that the Vikings would have seemingly leaned on this season was Chainey Zolman. The sharpshooting senior had plenty of big moments for Valley in the past few years, including helping the Vikings win a sectional title in 2013. But Zolman moved out this past summer, leaving even more questions to be answered for this Valley team.
“Really, we lost five of our first six players,” said Valley head coach Bill Patrick. “We are left with a lot of question marks entering the season. We don’t have a lot of players that really know what it’s like to play on the varsity level, Jared Littlejohn is basically the only one who saw a lot of varsity time.”
Littlejohn, a senior, has played a significant roll off the bench for Patrick over the past two seasons. He provided solid depth on last year’s team that would go 17-4 and win the Three Rivers Conference. Littlejohn has the ability to score, but will need help. That help will hopefully come, in part, from sophomore Alec Craig.
Craig made waves as a freshman, showing his ability to score on the junior varsity level and showed flashes of that ability in minimal varsity time. Patrick mentioned Craig as a player that should help boost the offense this season.
One break that Patrick’s team is getting is the return of Alex Thacker and the arrival of Austin Perdieu. Thacker found himself ineligible to play last season, but will provide a nice scoring option for the Vikings this year. Perdieu, a 6’2″ move-in, will give Valley a little size, something that the team severely lacks.
“Size is going to be an issue for us,” Patrick explained. “We have a lot of kids that are close to being six foot, but only four players that are taller than that. It will be challenge for us inside this year. We’re a very guard oriented team. Seven of our nine guys are guards.”
Neil Clampitt cut his teeth in junior varsity action as a sophomore last season, but at 6’2″ he will be looked upon for varsity help this season. Chandler O’Connor, a 6’4″ senior, will be a key piece for this year’s team as well. O’Connor was described as being a good shooter by his coach and will be able to give another dynamic to the Vikings offense this season.
Coming in as defending TRC champions automatically puts a target on Valley’s back, but with a loaded Manchester squad playing in the same conference, Patrick knows who the team to be will be. One addition to the Squires roster will be Patrick’s former shooter, Zolman.
“Manchester is the team to beat this season,” Patrick remarked. “They have a lot of talent on that roster, a lot of good shooters. They are definitely the team to look out for. But I don’t want to count out some of the other schools.
“Rochester, Wabash, Northfield and Southwood all have talented rosters as well. The conference will be difficult this year.”
As for getting back on top in the sectional, Patrick sees two road blocks in particular, “Fairfield and Wawasee, those are the two teams to beat, at least on paper.”
Between Manchester in conference and Wawasee in the sectional, two of Valley’s rivals will both be worthy competitors for the Vikings this season. Valley will start its 2014-15 campaign Wednesday with another rival as the Vikings travel to Warsaw to take on the Tigers. Tip is set for 7:45 p.m.
The Vikings will host Argos for their home opener next Tuesday.