Wildcats continue to progress through the summer months

By Kelly Breckunitch

As summer marches on, so too does the Holton boys basketball program under the new leadership of head coach Ryan Noel.

It has been a whirlwind so far and it’s not even November yet, when practices will officially start for the high school season. The Wildcats are keeping their heads down though, according to Noel, and have continued to do the work and progress through the summer months.

Going into the summer, Noel said there was a focus on getting the players used to some of his tendencies and the summer league and tournament opportunities allowed the Wildcats to build on what they had already started working on during the team camp in early June.

“Really we were just looking for offensive transition, getting up the floor quickly, great defensive effort and then along the way, week by week, trying to get in better positions both offensively and defensively. I think that’s where we wanted to go,” Noel said.

In addition to putting in work through summer competition, Noel said the Holton players have continued to put in more and more work in practices and at open gym sessions as the summer goes on, allowing for even more progress in the new system.

“As the summer has progressed, our open gym has been great. Our kids have bought in. We have a number of guys showing up,” Noel said.

Open gym sessions take place after summer weights during the week, though Noel noted Wednesdays and Fridays are more focused sessions where coaches are available to give specific commentary and feedback.

Noel said he has given his players as many opportunities to hone their game as possible this summer and left it up to them in terms of the commitment level. He said he encouraged participation in the summer opportunities, but he also knows the busy schedule most of his athletes have and therefore tries to be flexible.

The Wildcats have battled some injuries, too, but that is something that Noel has seen only as a benefit this summer. That left the door open for a number of athletes to pick up some valuable experience in the summer months and the Wildcats ran with it.

“I’m very optimistic. It was exciting to watch us grow throughout the summer. I was thrilled with how hard they played, knowing that we were going to make a whole bunch of mistakes while trying to do some new things. They just continued to be resilient and just played hard all summer,” Noel said.

After a rough start in summer league play, the upperclassmen closed out strong in Kaw Valley League play, which wrapped up last week. The Wildcats had some setbacks early and lost three of their first four games, but the team rebounded in the final weeks and finished 8-4 overall.

Meanwhile, the younger Holton players had a good deal of success in a summer league up in Seneca. The Holton squad competing there went 6-2 overall and finished third in the league, with one of those losses coming on the final night of championship action.

While the wins and losses are nice, Noel noted he has yet to see or participate in a summer league state championship game. So, he said it was good to see the Wildcats have that success, but it was the path the team took to get there that might have been more important.

“I like how the kids embraced the process, knowing that we had to get better at different things every week and I think that was the biggest thing that we will take away from the summer,” Noel said. “Those are the steps that we have to take and those are the concepts that we have to look at.”

Another big bonus of all the work the Wildcats have done in June and July is the time the players and coaches have had to work together. Noel noted there is a lot of unfamiliarity between the coaches and players, so that relationship building could be just as important as the individual growth when the winter season rolls around.

“Sure we try to implement some Xs and Os, but I think that the team-building process and being a united group in somewhat of a family atmosphere is the most important thing over the summer,” Noel said.

With some injuries afflicting the Wildcats in the summer, that allowed for a lot of playing time to be split up amongst the athletes and while there is still work to be done, Noel said that may have helped Holton start to create its team identity for the upcoming high school season.

From summer league to MAYB tournaments, Noel noted the players have already started to make some headway under the new coach’s system in a short amount of time. The players and coach have a short time left to work together this summer, but he said he is excited to see the athletes compete in other sports this fall before hitting the hardwood again this winter.

Members of the Holton team who competed in the Kaw Valley League included Tanner New, Aaron Bain, Damian Scott, Brandt Rose, Trey Tanking, Mason Barta, Kaden Brandt, Riley Strader, Bryson Patch, Will Wright, Austin Frakes, Indie Allen, Cole Lehwald, Parker Sides, Garett Beecher and Nils Bergsten.

Underclassmen who competed for Holton at the league in Seneca included Chase Wareham, Brock Forrester, Josh Clark, Mason Chanay, Mason Strader, AJ Haussler, Dylan Aeschliman, Carson Meerpohl, Aaron Bain and Josh Wilhelm, along with coaches Kurt Haussler and Ryan Strader.