The ability to sneak up on opponents isn’t a luxury the Mendon boys basketball team has entering the 2013-14 season. Everyone knows who the Hornets are after an 18-3 record last year.
With four starters and two more letterwinners back, head coach David Swanwick’s crew, which gets going Monday at home against Battle Creek St. Philip, is primed for something special in March. A haunting first-round loss to Climax-Scotts in districts last year adds an extra splash of gas on the fire.
“With returning great experience also comes great expectations,” Swanwick said. “We will be expecting every team’s best game this season nigh in and night out. We have a good competitive schedule with the addition of Buchanan and Bridgman. Many of the guys have played in all kinds of pressure games in the past, and this should help us greatly this season.”
Senior guards Erik Batten (6-foot-1), Marcus Craft (5-10), Zach Darmofal (6-0) and senior forward Joe Gales (6-1) all started as juniors and averaged at least 10 points per game. Senior guard Robert Riley (5-9) and junior center Logan Slaughter also played major roles in a 5-1 record and co-championship in the St. Joseph Valley League.
Gales, who was named a Class D All-State Honorable Mention and SJV MVP last winter, led the team with 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals per game last year.
“Joe is a very versatile player,” Swanwick said. “He can play at the forward position with his good timing and leaping ability. He also has the skills to move out and play at the guard spot. He has great ability to rebound at one end of the floor and take it the length and score at the other end. He also has great vision of the floor.
Batten poured in 11 points and pulled down four rebounds to go with his two steals per contest last season. He was voted to the All-SJV squad for his efforts. With a true stroke and good vision, Batten also isn’t afraid to stick his nose in board battles.
“He is very cool under pressure,” Swanwick pointed out.
Coming off a season when he scored 10 points, secured four rebounds, registered three assists and two steals per outing, Craft makes the offense go at the point. The All-SJV Honorable Mention is “a good floor leader, assist man, rebounder and has a nice outside shot,” Swanwick said.
Darmofal completes the returning starting quartet after averaging 11 points, four boards, four assists and two steals each time he took the court.
“Zach is quick, a nice passer, great outside shot, not afraid to rebound and he is the complete player,” Swanwick said of the All-SJV wing. “Zach leads by example with his hustle and never-say-die attitude.”
A variety of players could step into that fifth spot this season. An unflappable Riley knows pressure and how to thrive in the face of it after being called upon to quarterback the football team with junior Jordan Medich went down with a broken collarbone in the final regular season game.
“He makes us a much better team,” Swanwick said.
Slaughter logged important minutes last season and is an imposing figure in the paint.
Juniors Parker Cupp (guard), Zach Higgins (forward), Medich (guard/forward) and Logan Mathews (guard) bring plenty of athleticism to the table. Cupp’s speed, Higgins’ physicality, Medich’s versatility and Mathews’ all-around polishing make for a deep bench along with senior forwards Zach Jones and Elijah Klepper. Jones took a couple years off from the game and is getting familiarized again, while Klepper is a known commodity with a nice mid-range jumper and plenty of springiness.
“First, we would like to win the last SJV League title outright,” Swanwick said. “We would also like to win the district. Both are good goals with White Pigeon being tough again this season and Hillsdale will be in our district this season. We need our seniors to be positive leaders.”