Panthers ready to turn program around

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Boys basketball team went 1-22 last season

Greg Bates, Times Herald Correspondent

Oconto Falls High School sophomore Mitch Manns attempts to drive past Bonduel defenders during a scrimmage at Green Bay West High School on Monday. Manns is a returning letter-winner who will be looked at to help turn the Panthers into a winning team. (Times Herald photo by Jacy Zollar)

The Oconto Falls boys basketball team has averaged 2½ wins per season the last seven seasons.

In the three seasons Mason Sefcik – the team’s lone senior this year – has been in the program, the varsity squad has won 10 games.

Sixth-year coach Kirk Hirst is sick of losing, and his players are, too.

“The ultimate goal, we want to turn the program around now,” Panthers junior Dakota Carriveau said. “It’s hard being that group that has to turn the program over, but someone’s got to do it and I think we can do it. We’ve got guys with a lot of talent and we’ve got guys with a lot of heart.”

Oconto Falls brings back three starters from a season ago and three other role players. The team is still young, but there’s some experience on the roster.

“I’ve told many people this, and I get the question, ‘You guys going to win?’” Hirst said. “I say, ‘You know what, we’re in a process of over the last four years of trying to change cultures and change things around.’ Meaning that you have to start somewhere. I think where we’re at at this point is, first of all, you have to start with getting the kids out, kids buying in, parents buying in, get them to do stuff in the offseason. From there, you’ve just got to put the time in. From there, you’ve got to play. From there, you’ve got to start to compete.

“I think we’re at the point this year where we’re going to compete and basically learn how to win. I think you have those steps — that’s where we’re at right now.”

The Panthers lost starting point guard Aaron Kurth and reserves Tyler Klimke and Mike Vervelde to graduation. Last year’s squad took a hit, going just 1-22 and losing its final 21 games.

“I’ve talked to these kids about it this whole week, ‘The only way we compete and we have a chance to win is if you play as a team. If you’re worried about me and I and my, we’re not going to win and it doesn’t matter who’s coaching you,’” Hirst said. “So, they’ve got play together as a team and so far, they’ve been pretty good.”

The success of the team will start with Sefcik. He’s the lone senior since Sam Virtues, who was a starting forward a season ago, injured his foot in football. Hirst said there’s an outside shot he’d be able to come back in March. Also, two juniors from last year’s squad decided not to come out for basketball.

Sefcik, who is in his second year as a captain, was the team’s leading scorer last season at 7.9 points per game.

“I think we’ll be a lot better,” Sefcik said. “We’ll play as a team, good chemistry going, make something happen.”

When Sefcik is on his game, he can light up the scoreboard. He’s going to need that production in his final season.

“Mason has a really nice shot,” Hirst said. “And I told Mason this last year, instead of taking the ball to the basket and getting to the rim and getting fouled or not getting fouled, he’s got to spot up and shoot. We’ve got guys that can get him the ball in space to where he can shoot the ball. Catch, shoot is his game.”

The Panthers have a good junior class, led by second-year starters Josiah Schoen and Carriveau. Schoen, who was the team’s top 3-point shooter, was the third-leading scorer (6.3 points) as a sophomore and Carriveau was fourth (6.2).

Carriveau knows last season he was a little nervous on the court and rushed some of his shots. After a year under his belt as a starter and being the starting quarterback on the football, Carriveau has become calmer as an athlete.

“You’ve got to be a general on the court, just like the field,” said Carriveau, who had a team-leading 4.7 rebounds per game. “You’ve just got to slow guys down and pick them up and just keep going. … I was 100 miles per hour, non-stop.”

Hirst is expecting a lot from his three returning starters. That trio combined to score 20.4 of the team’s 40.6 points per game a season ago.

Hirst will rely on a pair of younger guys to replace Kurth, who was second on the team last year at 7.0 points per game. Sophomore Mitch Manns (3.5 points) and junior Dylan Nelson will share time at point guard.

“They’ll be a big help,” Sefcik said. “They’re both explosive, good at defense. Good basketball players.”

Scoring is going to have to come from a number of players this year.

“If all these kids score from six to 10 points a game, obviously you know you’re going to be playing well,” Hirst said. “They all have it in them. They all can score that.”

In order to help create scoring, Hirst has his guys using a pressure defense to cause turnovers and run in transition.

“We’ve got to run, we’ve got to do some pressing,” Hirst said. “Our weakness is going to be our youth. But our youth is kids that have played before. We’ve got juniors that started as sophomores.”

Hirst noted juniors Kade Brabant, Brody Schindel, Aaron Gonnering, Brenton Wolf and Joey Walters as well as sophomores Jarod Parsons and Evan Roberts will be vying for playing time.

Oconto Falls allowed 67 points per game last season. Defense was a major emphasis for the Panthers in the first week of practice.

“Defense wins championships as everybody says, so we’ve just got to give it our all,” Carriveau said. “We’ve got to be flying around, diving, and have teams actually respect us.”

The North Eastern Conference will once again be stacked. Luxemburg-Casco (17-1) ran away with the title last season, followed by Little Chute (14-4) and Freedom (12-6). Wrightstown might be the favorite this season, going 11-7 last year and bringing back the majority of its team.

Sefcik is looking to finish his senior year with a .500 record. Carriveau isn’t too concerned about wins and losses, but just having the team play well.

“I just want us at the end of the season to say we gave it our all and we did as best as we thought we could,” Carriveau said. “Whatever the scoreboard reflects, the record reflects, I know that me and my buds are going to give it our all every game.”