By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Typically, the first year at a new program can be a struggle as everyone gets acclimated to a new system.
That wasn’t the case for Tyler Ryerson at Strafford.
His Indians enjoyed a 20-win season, conference championship and advanced to the district finals before losing to eventual Class 3 runner-up Springfield Catholic.
While there was a brief adjustment period early, the Indians ended up winning 11 straight games late in the season. Ryerson believes it was aided because of the job Hall of Fame coach Mike Wilson did in his tenure at Strafford.
“The transition was a pretty easy one,” said Ryerson. “There are a lot of similarities between Coach Wilson and myself, style wise, we both like to pressure the ball and play tough half-court man. He was a little more towards half court and deny. Last year we were more packlined and backed up. Ran many of the same sets. So the tough part of the transition was the terminology that we use, that was a little different.
“That 11-game winning streak was actually a product of our four-game losing streak that preceded the wins. We played four really good teams – Nixa, Marshfield, Mt. Vernon, and Springfield Catholic – and towards the end of that losing streak we changed the way we practiced, went back to basics, tried to accentuate our strengths a little better. We really ramped up the intensity in practice, and the kids really bought in. They brought it every day during that streak and it propelled us to a nice streak.”
Ryerson will be tasked with replacing three All-Mid-Lakes selections from last year’s team.
It was a group that was a part of 77 wins over the last four seasons. Replacing them individually will be nearly impossible, some Ryerson has a different plan in mind.
“It’s going to be done by committee,” said Ryerson. “We’re going to be very balanced this year, I could see as many as seven different guys averaging double figures this year. We lost 75 percent of scoring, rebounding, steals, and assists. That is what made the 2018 team so special. They played on both ends, every possession. Something that we’re pushing our 2019 team to focus on.”
Strafford will be led by a seven-man senior class, and some talented underclassmen, with seniors Zak Lutgen and Gabe Mahon, as well as Vance Mullins starting games last year.
Mahon is a big-time scorer, while Lutgen and Mullins are athletic, two-way players.
Seniors Cade Rear and Clay Lawson are two more gritty, defensive-minded and athletic players. They’re also extremely versatile. Classmates Nick Losh, Jacob Stow and Sawyer Lumley will be counted on to help produce offensive and are among the better shooters in the program.
Ryerson is also excited about his underclassmen and believes that sophomore Seth Soden, Logan Fraker and Teagan Lawler, as well as freshman AK Rael.
Despite their youth, they all have the ability to score it in various ways.
Strafford will be talented, but lacks exposure to varsity-level basketball and it’s difficult to simulate game reps.
Ryerson knows there will be some growing pains, but he’s excited about this group’s depth and believes that will be a strength of the roster.
“We’ve got 15 varsity jerseys this year, and I would be confident in every single one of those guys playing,” said Ryerson. “With that many guys brings competition and usually means “going at each other” in practice, the other side of the coin in playing that many guys is that they really need to accept their roles, and be happy for each other.”
“Leadership with this group is going to be vital for us to reach all of our goals, with seven seniors that have played together most of their lives, I think they will build a culture for our team this year that will allow us to be successful.”
Strafford will open the 2019-20 season on Dec. 2 at the Forsyth Tournament.