Last year, the Marion boys? basketball team went through baptism by fire.
With only two seniors on the roster and a total of four upperclassmen, coach Jeff McMillin had no choice but to put young players into the game.
Marion recorded five wins and 16 losses in what became a season of growth. Each night on the court was a learning experience, which will pay dividends this season as those players return.
?We didn?t have a losing record because we were bad players,? said McMillin, who begins his eighth season. ?We had a losing record because we had young players. All of them have grown. They all have more experience now.?
While Marion will play without Bret Voth and Jacob Baldwin this year, three returning starters will anchor this year?s team.
Nicholas Stuchlik returns at post. The 6-foot, 3-inch senior averaged 7 points and 7 rebounds last season.
?Nicholas jumps real well, (he?s) real long, is very smart and knows where to be in the right situation,? McMillin said. ?He?s a very aggressive rebounder.?
Juniors Mason Pedersen (6-1) and Peyton Heide?brecht (5-8) return at guard. Peder?sen averaged 8.8 points last year.
?(Peyton) has the ability to score from time to time, but he looks to help set other people up first. He?s aggressive, he?s a hard worker and he gets after it.?
Senior Dylan Pippin (6-1) returns with some starting experience at post.
?He?ll show good improve?ment,? McMillin said. ?He?s pretty undersized as far as height in the post, but he?s strong and he knows how to use angles real well, so he?ll be an effective post player for us.?
Two sophomores who saw significant playing time as freshmen are Jack Schneider (6-2 guard, post) and Zachary Stuchlik (6-2 guard).
?Jack and Zachary have shown great improvement in the off-season and will do a lot of the things they did last year but a lot of it better,? McMillin said.
Additional returning letter-winners and contributors include junior post Nathan Baldwin (6-2) and sophomore guard Colin Williams (5-9).
Two newcomers will be added to the mix this season.
Tyler Zinn is a 6-1 senior guard who transferred from Olathe South, where he averaged 14 points last season. Zinn will be eligible to play in January.
?He?s a good scorer, he?s a good player,? McMillin said. ?He?ll bring a lot of athleticism.?
Freshman guard Evann Heidebrecht (5-11) is another newcomer.
?We?ll get him in the fold this year, but his biggest year is going to be in the future,? McMillin said. ?He?s going to be pretty good.?
McMillin said he has an athletic and long group this season. One of his goals is to improve team defense.
?One thing I felt we really got away from is our defensive identity that we built the last few years,? he said. ?We didn?t have the ability to defend real well, and I think we?re going to start bringing that back this year.?
The Warriors will be tested out of the gate in a non-league matchup when Southeast of Saline comes to Marion for the season-opener Friday. Teams to watch in the Heart of Amer?ica league include Berean Academy and Hutchinson Trinity, McMillin said.
?Our league is always pretty competitive,? he said. ?Even teams you don?t think are going to be good that year, they?ll be pretty good. There is not going to be any easy games in our league. There never really are.?
For McMillin, a successful season will be more than wins and losses.
?Although we didn?t win a whole lot of games last year, I didn?t feel like it was unsuccessful because we didn?t underachieve really,? he said. ?If anything, we probably overachieved a little bit. We might win more games than last year, but not be a success. It always, with us, is how much we improve.
?If we enjoy the journey together and we come to the end of the road and we?re satisfied that we gave our full effort to the team and accomplished all that we could accomplish and we reach our ceiling, count that as a success.?