The Elma boys basketball team will be made up of much younger players than last year’s senior laden-squad but the Eagles are hoping the youth movement will help the team improve on last season’s results when they take the court for their season-opening game against Shelton at home today.
The Eagles of 2016-17 finished with a 4-17 record and fell far short of the postseason. With six seniors graduating from that team, younger players will be called on to be anchors.
One of those player who will be called upon to step up this season is Cody Vollan. Vollan is only a sophomore but started as a freshman and averaged 5.8 points a game.
The team also will be getting an infusion of new leadership from its first-year head coach Jeff Niemi.
Niemi, an Elma teacher, coached Aberdeen’s girls last season.
Niemi hasn’t been on he job for very long but he is already working on ways to maximize his team’s speed.
“We’re really trying to get the running game going because we have some good athletes. Almost all of my guys play football, so there is some speed there,” he said. “We do have a little more size than Elm has had in the past but I do want to run lanes and get the ball up and down the court quickly.”
Along with Vollan, Kilian Acuff and Sam Schneider will be responsible for helping run Niemi’s fast-paced offense.
Carter Jacobson has also caught the attention of the coaching staff with his improvement in the off season and figures to see a lot of time on the floor in his first year on varsity.
Schneider and Acuff spent most of their time on junior varsity but both got varsity-level experience with Acuff seeing the floor for varsity in two games and Schneider playing in 12.
The Eagles are close to solidifying their starting lineup but playing time can still be earned as the team prepares to enter its non-league schedule.
Niemi said he wants to see how his young team can adjust to the speed of the game after weeks of practice.
“I want to see how we handle pressure and if we can compete,” he said. “Really, only one of these guys has played minutes in a varsity game so I want to see if we can compete with the physicality of other teams.”
Physicality will be important this season as the Eagles plan to use man to man defense and occasionally go into a press to force turnovers.
Niemi said the early portion of the schedule will help him and his coaching staff figure which defensive sets work best for the team.
“I would like the team to get really good at defending in man,” he said. “We’ll mix in some zone too and for us to be successful we’ll have to pressure some people in full court. And we may experiment at the beginning of the season to see what works best for us.”
A new group of starters and a new head coach will create some extra challenges for an Elma squad looking to rebound from last season’s disappointing result.
But, Niemi isn’t focused on that. He just wants his players to focus on the next opponent.