By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
An impressive number of eight letterwinners, including two of the stalwarts that helped lead the NorthWood Panthers to their first sectional championship since 2007, are back for the 2012-13 high school boys basketball season.
NorthWood finished with a 13-12 record (2-5 in the NLC) a year ago, but won the Class 3A sectional at NorthWood by defeating West Noble 58-45 in the championship and advanced to the regional championship at Blackford before the season ended with a 62-51 loss to Norwell.
“Our goals are the same as they are every year,” sixth-year coach Aaron Wolfe said. “We want to represent ourselves, our school and our community in a class manner. We also want to compete in the conference and at the state level.
“I would like to start off this season like we finished off last year. But this year is a new challenge, one that we are looking forward to. We were a young team last year. There is a difference every year in varsity athletes as they mature. A number of them played valuable minutes for us last season. Last year’s team jelled late in the season.”
NorthWood hosts Triton Friday to open the season.
Highlighting the returnees are a pair of 6-5 juniors in guard Jonathan Wilkinson (277 points) and forward Zach Zurcher (259).
“We are going to rely on the two of them for leadership and scoring,” Wolfe said. “Both of them have made strides, which we feel can be attributed to the experience of last season. Both of them have matured. We need them to be impact players at both ends of the court.”
The rest of the returnees are 5-11 senior forward Spencer Culp, 5-11 senior forward Nick Graber, 6-2 senior forward Tommy Klem (84), 5-9 junior guard Tanner Farmwald (16), 5-7 junior guard Kyle McCoy (25) and 6-5 junior forward Will Stueve (42).
“Klem played important minutes for us last season and he will be relied upon for more this year,” Wolfe said. “Farmwald and McCoy bring ball-handling skills, leadership and decision making to the team. Stueve should also give us some valuable minutes.”
Having the number of players back is a strength of the team.
“Most of them played together last season,” Wolfe said. “The opposite of that is we also have some players that are untested at the varsity level. We are going to have to blend those two elements into a good team. We also have players that are versatile and can play more the one position. There might be times when we have three guards on the floor.”
Other players on the roster are 5-11 junior guard Gabe Williams, 5-10 sophomore forward Travis Bear, 6-4 sophomore forward Cam Simpson and 5-10 freshman guard Braxton Linville.
“It’s noteworthy that Bear and Linville are competing for varsity playing time,” Wolfe said. “Linville is one of our top ball handlers. He has a bright future in our program.”
McCoy, Bear and Linville are in competition for time in the back court.
“I like the demeanor of all three,” Wolfe said. “They all have the combination of leadership, dribbling, passing and the ability to get the team organized.”
The Panthers have size in Klem, Simpson, Stueve, Wilkinson and Zurcher.
“They provide us with some decent height and hopefully that translates into good rebounding,” the coach said.
Losses to graduation were Jakyah Qaiyim (229) and Derek Yoder (100).
“This team is still trying to find its identity,” Wolfe said. “That is a challenge every year for coaches and players when you lose a nucleus of the team.
“We have a number of players back, but most of them will be playing different roles this year. That is always an unknown.
Also starter Braxton Miller (236) has transferred to Michigan City Marquette.
“We are looking at him as a senior that graduated,” the coach said.
Nov. 30 — Triton H
Dec. 6 — Westview H
Dec. 8 — Fairfield T
Dec. 11 — Jimtown T
Dec. 14 — Plymouth T
Dec. 21-22 — Tippecanoe Valley Tournament
Dec. 29 — LaVille T
Jan. 4 — Wawasee H
Jan. 8 — New Prairie H
Jan. 11 — Northridge T
Jan. 15 — Lakeland T
Jan. 18 — Goshen H
Jan. 25 — Warsaw T
Jan. 29 — West Noble T
Feb. 2 — Concord H
Feb. 7 — Elkhart Memorial T
Feb. 12 — John Glenn H
Feb. 15 — Bremen T
Feb. 22 — Whitko H
xSpencer Culp, F, 5-11, Senior
xNick Graber, F 5-10, Senior
xTommy Klem, F, 6-2 Senior
xTanner Farmwald, G, 5-9 Junior
xKyle McCoy, G, 5-7, Junior
xWill Stueve, F, 6-5, Junior
xJonathan Wilkinson, G, 6-5, Jr.
Gabe Williams, G, 5-11, Junior
xZach Zurcher, F, 6-5, Junior
Travis Bear, F, 5-10 Sophomore
Cam Simpson, F, 6-4 Soph.
Braxton Linville, G, 5-10 Fr.
Head Coach: Aaron Wolfe, 6th season (61-52 in five seasons).
Assistant coaches: Phil Lechlitner, A.J. Risedorph, Dennis Hershberger, Zac Lechlitner, Doug Gerber.