Schoolcraft Eagles Strive to Avoid “February Blues”

Blake Bales
Blake Bales drives to the basket on Constantine, while Riley Piper on the left and Jason Feddema assist. Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.

By Michael C. Reed

According to Coach Jeff VanderWiere, his 13-man Eagles basketball team needs to become more disciplined, play better, and avoid February’s “wall” when fatigue and winter’s cold and darkness challenges everyone on a team.

He says that Schoolcraft still has a strong shot at winning the district and placing higher in the Kalamazoo Valley Association, which also includes Bronson, Comstock, Constantine, Delta Kellogg, Galesburg-Augusta, Kalamazoo Christian, Kalamazoo Christian Middle School, Hackett, and Parchment.

VanderWiere says that he has a good shooting team with several excellent outside shooters, but the boys tend to rely too much on their shooting. They are a stronger team when they pass inside to the big players who then “kick” the ball out to shooters. Coach calls this “getting shots from the inside out.”

The team consists of thirteen boys, including four seniors, six juniors, two sophomores, and one freshman. Although the Eagles have two rather tall players—6’7” Alec Craig and 6’4” Cody Tone, who is the team’s leading scorer with an average of 14.5 points per game—VanderWiere says that height alone does not guarantee effective rebounding. The problem is that players must get good at “boxing out” opponents, meaning “preventing others players from getting to the rebound.”

VanderWiere is interim varsity head coach this season to allow regular coach Randy Small to take a year off to think about whether he wants to continue in that role in 2015-16. Prior to this season, VanderWiere was Small’s assistant for two years.

Randy Small’s son, Walker Small, is a 6’3” guard/forward “who has taken the leadership of the team on his shoulders.” However, VanderWiere says, Small has been “pressing too much,” although he has had better balance in recent games.

VanderWiere notes that the team’s point guard is a freshman, Riley Piper, who is 5’8”. Another notable player is sophomore Blake Bales who, four games into the season, was brought up from junior varsity for just one game (with Edwardsburg). However, Bales has stuck with the team and “provides an energy and work ethic” that have pushed other boys to work harder.

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