Basketball is back, beckoning for a playoff bid

Zach DiSchiano

     The Timberwolf basketball team is back, and although they only have three returning varsity players, the guys are on track to rebound from last year. The team hopes to make the playoffs this year. Cedar Park lost All-District guard Matt Thurner who put up about 15 points a game for the Timberwolves, but this year the scoring is evenly spread amongst several different players. Tyler Stromberg leads the scoring for the Timberwolves with ten points per game followed closely by Kollin Steichen and Dylan Cox with eight.

     “This year we don’t have any outstanding players,” Matt Gallagher, senior forward, said. “We’re going to do well because we play together as a team. If there is an open shot, almost anybody can take it and make it.”

     Along with a wide variety of scorers, the guys have an abundance of something they didn’t have much of a season ago. Instead of being the quick, undersized team like years in the past, this year’s lineup consists of not only tall posts but taller guards as well.

      “Unlike last year, this year’s varsity team has a lot of height,” Kollin Steichen, senior forward, said. “We have a 6’7” player, two 6’6” players, and three 6’3” players.

     Another advantage of this year’s squad is the chemistry between the players. Mostly made up of seniors, this year’s varsity team has developed a bond between each other after playing together for four years. They practice together, eat lunch together, go to class together and hang out with each other outside of school.

     “It’s almost like a sixth sense,” Gallagher said. “We know exactly where one another are on the court at all times.”

      The Timberwolves also constantly challenge themselves and play in game situations. Practices are every day during third and seventh period and every day after school, excluding game days. Each practice consists of shooting drills, free-throws, plays, defensive drills and conditioning. The offseason consists of weight lifting and conditioning drills on alternating days.

     The guys have started out the season fairly strong, with wins against Bastrop, Midway, Reagan and Holmes. Cedar Park has played against extremely talented teams and come close to winning most of them. Against undefeated Akins, the Timberwolves only lost by three. Lake Travis barely held off the Timberwolves to remain undefeated. The guys had some difficulties against the number 4 team in the state, Westlake, and the number 35 team in the state, Bowie.

     The Timberwolves’ first district game of the season will be at Westwood on December 18. The Timberwolves are looking forward to their season opener as everyone on the team is aiming for a spot in the playoffs. While last year’s team failed to make the playoffs, the guys believe that they have gotten better since last season and feel strongly about their playoff hopes.

     “I think our entire team has improved a lot,” Gallagher said. “This year some of us were on a summer traveling team. We played teams that were as good as college teams. This really helped us improve our game a lot.”

     To help them be more successful, the Timberwolves count on a supportive crowd. This year’s SRO Zone has been called a number of names, most commonly “disappointing.” The players all agree that they are not loud enough at home games, decreasing the effectiveness of the home-field advantage. While the stands at Bible Stadium are packed for Timberwolf football games, the Timberdome always has empty seats, even though it is considerably smaller than the stands of Bible.

     “The number of people in the SRO Zone decrease as the game goes on,” Alphonso Fields, senior guard, said. “I don’t really hear them at all, they’re so quiet. All I can hear is our team cheering, they need to be louder.”

     Although last year’s team did not look intimidating, they had some of the strongest shooters in the district. Almost every player could hit a game winning shot from behind the arc. Matt Thurner, Demarcus Rosenthal and Billy Bernhard left a legacy for this year’s team to follow. The Timberwolves had a rough start maintaining the standard as they shot 21 three pointers and only made three in one of the early games. However, as the season has progressed the guys seemed to have found their touch outside.

     “We have a lot of good outside shooters and posts,” Max Forster, senior guard, said. “We’re just a really well-rounded team.”

     Despite their shooting abilities, the Timberwolves have experienced a small drop in scoring, producing about 49 points per game compared to last year’s 54. Cedar Park has set a bad trend for early season play, as the last three seasons have started off with two wins followed by four to six consecutive losses. These losses put the Timberwolves in a hole, forcing the guys to play from behind the next few games. The early-season slump is a disturbance but not the determining factor of a successful season.

     The number of team assists has gone down dramatically as the season has progressed, which means less passing and more shots being forced. Coach Brown has taken notice of the recent poor play and has attempted to figure out what the problems are. He called every player into his office one at a time to try and communicate with them. He talked about what each player needs to do to earn more playing time, and also discussed the roles of each player with the team. Since some players don’t talk much in practice, this provided a way for the guys to communicate with the coach and move forward. The players were able to tell the coach what they felt the problems were and how they were going to fix them. Coach Brown got to tell each player what he wanted them to work on, and provided them with an opportunity for more playing time if they do improve.

     The basketball team is struggling for now, but changes are being made to turn the team around. It’s early in the season, so the Timberwolves still have time to regroup and gain some momentum heading into district play. This year’s team has more chemistry and desire than ever to make the playoffs, so don’t be surprised if you see Cedar Park at the top of the district standings at the end of the regular season.