River boys still young, but boast experience
HANNIBAL — Anytime a team starts multiple freshmen and a few other underclassmen, a head coach can almost always expect some growing pains.
Mark Romick — the long-time River basketball coach — is no different.
He and his coaching staff went with the youth movement in 2019-20 and it led to a highly uncharacteristic 7-13 season.
Now with those players a year older, stronger and more experienced, the Pilots believe they can begin to turn the corner and get back to the level of play at which they’ve become accustomed.
“I think we can put ourselves in a position to where we can get back to the OVAC playoffs and be one of the top teams in the district,” Romick said. “We have a nice combination of 10 kids who can help us with some size, good shooters, good scorers, guys who can handle the ball, but it always comes down to the ability to defend.”
Though the Pilots are a year older, they — like everyone else — didn’t get a busy summer and offseason to continue their development because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But, Romick isn’t using that as any type of excuse for individual growth.
“We didn’t get a chance to evaluate the kids against other people, which is tough, but there was nothing to distract them from going out and working on their own and playing,” Romick said. “We’ve been able to tell from our practices and scrimmages that we’ve had that we’re better and further along.”
The Pilots saw their preseason truncated by a two-week quarantine. One of their players tested positive for the virus and via contact tracing, the entire group was shutdown. It caused a ripple effect on the Pilots’ schedule, leading to opening day being pushed back to Dec. 11. Unfortunately, Romick — who is also River’s A.D. — realizes this probably won’t be the last schedule changes he’s dealing with before it’s said and done.
“We’ve told the kids it’s going to be an abnormal year, but we’re going to try to make it as normal as we can,” Romick said. “The schedule is going to look different and we may end up playing three games a week like it used to be 20 years ago. There could be games scheduled day of where coaches and ADs schedule by word of mouth on who is and isn’t playing.”
On the court, the Pilots expect to employ a few different defensive looks and those could change with the personnel.
“We’ll still be a man team, primarily, but we’ll be able to do some different presses and things, depending upon who is in the game,” Romick said. “I think we’ll be able to create more pressure than we’ve done in the past. It’s the same offensively, too. Depending on who is in the game, some guys are better for running sets through and others are freelance types.”
Two sophomores who started every game for River last season are back and expected to take on even greater roles.
Brody Lollathin (5-10) and averaged in double figures. Ty Long (6-2) is also coming off an impressive rookie campaign and will be looked upon to step up even more.
“We talked to those kids after the season and they both mentioned the speed of the game was (faster) than they thought it would be,” Romick said. “They had spurts where they both looked really good and other times you could tell they looked like freshmen.”
Two seniors — Chase Lawrence (6-2) and Connor Hunter (5-9) are expected to contribute and make a push at the starting lineup. Lawrence returns to basketball after not playing last season.
Juniors Austin Creamer (5-11) and Brody Longwell (6-2) both saw some time in the starting lineup a season ago.
Juniors Nick Karpacs-Brown (5-7) and Kam Potts (6-2) will take on a greater role after spending much of last season in the jayvee ranks.
Sophomore River Thompson (6-3) is a player to keep an eye on. He’s shot up a few inches and is one of the Pilots’ top shooters.
Freshman Kabel Isaly (5-8) is expected to log a lot of minutes at the guard spot. He’s the younger brother of former Pilot great Lukas Isaly.
The Pilots schedule underwent a few minor changes prior to COVID-19. They picked up Buckeye Trail and Barnesville. They’ll now open with Beallsville, which was a late addition to replace one of the West Virginia opponents.
Romick is being assisted by Kris Pfalzgraf and Dan Lollathin.