Young Plum boys team set for challenges
The Plum varsity boys basketball team missed the playoffs last season after qualifying three years in a row.
The Mustangs finished 6-8 in Section 2-AAAA and 11-11 overall.
A big win down the stretch, however, came against a Fox Chapel team that went 10-4 in the section and 17-7 overall.
The victory over the Foxes, coupled with a 13-point triumph over Knoch in the season finale, gave the returning players a degree of momentum heading into the offseason.
Veteran head coach Ron Richards said he hopes his young team — only two seniors dot the roster — can produce good things and make a return to the postseason in 2013-14.
“We're young and inexperienced, but I like the way the team is coming together,” Richards said.
“I don't know how that will translate into winning games, but I like the way things are progressing.”
The two seniors are guard Nick Stotler and forward Austin Dedert.
“Nick and Austin are our two most experienced players,” Richards said.
“They've been in playoff games. They've been through a lot, and they have improved so much. We have as good of a shot as anyone else in the section, and Nick and Austin see that.”
Both Stotler and Dedert are multiyear starters and key veterans for a Mustangs squad that features a big group of sophomores.
“We just want to work together and get better as the season goes on,” Stotler said. “We want to have a special season. This is one of the closest teams I've ever been on. We have a lot of younger kids who can step up.”
“We're expecting a lot out of this year,” Dedert said.
“A lot of people on this team care and have that winning attitude.”
Stotler also has proven himself on the baseball diamond, and he has signed a letter of intent to play baseball with Division II Coker College in South Carolina.
“Nick's a natural athlete,” Richards said. “He plays baseball most of the year, but he's the type of kid who can come into the gym and in two days, he can be one of the best players on the floor. Some days last year, he was the best player on the floor and other times, he kind of disappeared. We've talked to him about being more consistent.”
Dedert is a three-year starter and four-year member of the varsity team.
“Austin has worked hard,” Richards said. “He's changed his body and gotten stronger. He's experienced a lot of the physicality that goes on (in the paint). He's become one of the better basketball players in the section. He's 6-foot-6 but has the reach of someone who is 6-9. Not many people have post players, and we have one. He has a really good shot at becoming a Division II scholarship player.”
Junior Austen Carney has battled through injury, including an ACL tear and last year, a broken wrist that ended his season prematurely.
“He scratched a cornea already this year and is wearing protective eyewear,” Richards said.
“I want to see him stay healthy so he can go out there and see what he is capable of doing. He's going to fill a role for us.”
Fellow junior Will Fuhrer, also the starting quarterback for the Plum football team, is expected to challenge for the starting lineup.
“Will is another guy that has a good skill set and works hard,” Richards said. “He can find a role for us.”
That also can be said for returning sophomore guard Taylor Vivino.
“Practices have been good,” Richards said. “The kids enjoy being around each other, and that really helps practice run smoothly. These are some of the most competitive practices we've had in years. Whether you are a freshman or a senior, you're going to have playing time if you have earned it.”
Richards said sophomore guard James Edwards, a transfer from Hampton, played a little bit on varsity for the Talbots last season and is ready to challenge for playing time this year.
“It's been all new to him with the way we do things and how we practice, but he can play,” Richards said.
Richards said Saturday's multi-team scrimmage at Plum was important in getting a better look at some lineup combinations and where some of the younger players fit into the machine.
“The younger kids are competitive and want to be on the floor in varsity games,” Richards said.
“We have a lot of good options. We have a number of kids with good ability that can step up. In the past, we would sometimes play five or six guys, and if one guy was struggling, we would look down the bench and wouldn't have a whole lot of options. We have options this season, and that has forced kids to work harder in practice.”
Richards said the section will be a challenge again, with Gateway, Fox Chapel, Penn Hills, McKeesport, Woodland Hills, Franklin Regional and Pittsburgh Central Catholic also reaching for the section title and one of the three WPIAL playoff spots.
Central Catholic (12-2) is the defending champ, and Gateway (11-3) and Fox Chapel (10-4) were the other two playoff teams in 2012-13.
Plum opens its season Dec. 6 and 7 with the annual tip-off tournament at Plum High School.
Deer Lakes and Shaler meet in one semifinal at 6 p.m. Dec. 6, with Plum and Highlands in the other semifinal at 8.
The consolation and championship games will be at 6 and 8 p.m., respectively, on Dec. 7.
A traditional nonsection game with Kiski Area will be Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Plum High School.
The Mustangs kick off section play Dec. 13 at home against Woodland Hills. The varsity game is set to start at 7:30 p.m.