AKRON — To say the Vikings took a significant hit to graduation last year is an understatement.
Tippecanoe Valley’s boys team bid goodbye to five seniors last spring after those upperclassmen led the team to a 15-10 record and the program’s first sectional title since 2013. This year’s squad features just two seniors in guards Tanner Trippiedi and Bryce Fisher. Swing player Rex Kirchenstien and guard Braden Shepherd make up the returning sophomore class, but after that the list of returning varsity players thins out pretty quickly.
As a result, head coach Chad Patrick won’t truly know what his lineup looks like until they open with Warsaw at the newly-dedicated Rita Price Simpson Court on Nov. 27. But he’s not letting his young team make any excuses, either.
“It’ll be a learning curve for them and for all of us. I really don’t know what to expect,” Patrick said.
“I’m competitive. I hate to lose, so I don’t care if we’re young, and I don’t care if next year and the year after could be great. This year is going to be good. I’m not settling. We’re not going to throw in the towel. That’s not even on the burner. Our goal is to win as many games as we can and to win the sectional. That’s what we’re planning on doing, and I think we’ll have just as good a shot as anybody come tournament time.”
What the Vikings lack in varsity experience, they hope to make up for in exciting new talent. Sophomore Dawson Perkins lends his 6’6” frame and a ridiculous vertical leap to the cause, while incoming freshman guards Noland Cumberland and Paul Leasure bring shooting, ball-handling and a pure love of the game to this year’s team.
“When you’re in the gym as much as those two kids are, you should be good,” said Patrick of Cumberland and Leasure. “They’ll be in the gym four to five, six hours a day. I know when they leave practice, they go and play. That’s all they do. They don’t play another sport, they just play basketball, and they do it every day of the week, 12 months out of the year. When you do that you’re going to be pretty good. Now, they’re not huge and they’re freshmen going up against seniors, so it’ll be interesting, but I think they’ll hold their own and I think by the end of the year, they’re going to be really good.”
If Valley’s newcomers are facing a learning curve, they at least already know how to win. The sophomore class was there for last year’s sectional championship run, when the freshmen were going 16-2 at the eighth grade level. And Patrick has designed practices to get them ready for a faster, more physical level of the game quickly.
“We go at them really hard in practice, all those underclassmen,” the Vikings boss explained. “We’ll go against the JV, and I’ll put eight guys out there just to make it chaos, just to get their minds to think quicker. And I tell the JV I’m not going to call fouls — ‘Kill them’. They’ve got to grow up in a hurry. We don’t have the luxury of them being freshmen or sophomores very long.”
The senior leadership of Fisher and Trippiedi — who was Valley’s second-leading scorer last year with 10.1 points per game as well as the assist leader with 2.4 an outing in addition to 1.3 steals per game — is going to be crucial. Patrick is counting on Kirchenstien and Shepherd to be his defensive stoppers, and the effort on that end of the floor is going to be one of the keys to how fast this year’s Vikings see success on the court against a retooled schedule that will challenge the squad.
“We’re going to need our senior leaders to lead this team and to keep them calm, keep them confident, keep them motivated. Because coaches, we can do it as much as we want, but their teammates still have to do it. We’re going to have to shoot well, which I think we will at times, but defense — I think we can score it, but can we guard anybody? That’ll be huge,” Patrick explained. “Last year we defended probably as good as any team we’ve had here in a long time, and that’s why we won. So this year’s team, we’re not going to be huge and we’re young, but I don’t care how big you are or how young you are, you can always play defense. So that’s what we’re going to have to do and do it well. We work on it a lot. We’re going to be aggressive and get after it. We’ll get up and down and see what happens.”