By GREG KEIM email@example.com
---- — BENTON — Experienced and lanky were two qualities coach Troy Beachy talked about when describing the 2013-14 Fairfield High School boys basketball team.
“We have eight returnees and most of them played on the varsity at some point last season,” the coach said. “We have a tougher policy for players lettering than just dressing for sectional.
“The kids are lanky. Most of the players are over 6-0 and there are going to be times when we have a lineup on the floor that is all over 6-0. Length and athleticism are things you can’t teach.”
The Falcons finished 11-12 a year ago in Beachy’s second season as coach. The team posted a 7-3 record in the NECC.
“Teams like Westview, West Noble, Angola and Fremont are always going to be in the conference mix,” Beachy said. “The next step for our program is to be among the teams in the top tier of the conference. We want to be a team that is consistently in the run for the NECC title each year.”
Fairfield opens the season by hosting Wawasee Tuesday.
Two key returning Falcons are 6-3 senior forward Marcus Rodes (206 points) and 6-2 junior forward Joe Line (133).
“Marcus and Joe are the top returning scorers,” Beachy said. “We need consistent play from the two of them.”
Another key player is 5-10 sophomore point guard Mitch DeWitt (48).
“Having a freshman point guard is good for the future of your program,” the coach said. “Mitch is bigger, stronger and faster. He is coming off a good football season where he made a lot of plays. He is growing into the position.”
Other letterwinners are 6-1 senior center Thomas Martin (22), 5-7 senior guard John Stack (44), 6-3 junior forward Clay Bontrager (9), 5-9 junior guard Josh Stephens (119) and 6-2 sophomore forward Brock Goeglein (16).
“Thomas understands his role on the team,” Beachy said. “He does the little things like setting great screens.
“Stack played a lot last season. He is an energy guy and he plays good defense. He gives us a spark off the bench. A team needs a player like that. Stephens started out last season switching between the JV and varsity, but by the end of the year was starting on the varsity. The two of them should have a nice year.
“Clay has all kinds of athletic ability. He just needs to be a little more consistent on the floor.
“Brock played a little on the varsity and did some nice things. He had problems with a concussion last season. He is a strong kid and should have a nice year for us. He is not going to score a lot, but is another players who does the little things.”
Additional varsity players are 6-2 junior forward Nathan Azzarito, 6-0 junior forward Kegan Showalter, 6-3 sophomore center Sam Brown and 6-1 sophomore center Graham Morris.
“Brown and Morris are post players,” Beachy said. “Morris didn’t play last year so he is figuring things out. Both of them are fighting for spots. Azzarito is another player that is back out after taking a year off. He has athletic ability. His strength is rebounding.
“If we begin seeing consistent play from them they could be in the mix with the veterans for playing time.”
Beachy shared an aspect of the team that he likes.
“We should be deeper than we have been in awhile,” the coach said. “Because of that depth we may be playing a more up-tempo game.
“We’ve had a lot of competition in practice. I like it when we have guys fighting for spots. We know who the top seven are. This gives us more options.”
Playing as a team is one thing the Falcons need to do.
“We want our scorers taking their shots, but at the same time we want the shot that is the best for the team,” the coach said. “There are going to be nights when Marcus leads us in scoring, nights when Joe leads us in scoring and nights when someone else is going to lead us.”
Losses to graduation were Garrett Scott (251), Brad Lantz (207) and Alex Miller (45).
Elkhart Christian Academy has replaced Bremen on the schedule.
“It’s a one-year deal with ECA,” Beachy said. “Next year Garrett returns to the NECC and will be on the schedule.”