Every good team has an identity. From playing up-tempo to half-court execution, teams have a style of play that defines them.
Despite losing seven seniors from last season, reigning Metro League champion Southridge believed it had found its identity by the time the first ball was tipped. However, a devastating injury to one of the Skyhawks’ core players has them scrambling to find their identity before league play starts in January.
Not even halfway into their home opener Dec. 4 against Sprague, senior Zach Galvin tried to create space by using a simple step-back move. As Galvin pushed back, his leg buckled and he fell to the court. That night, he left the building on crutches, and a week later was diagnosed with a torn ACL.
Until the injury was diagnosed, Southridge head coach Phil Vesel said that the team had a cloud hanging over them. The Skyhawks needed to reinvent themselves.
“After Zach got hurt, it’s been kind of hard to find our identity as a team, so I think we’ve just been working on that day in and day out, and figuring out who we are as a group,” senior Kade Hustler said.
So what is this new identity the Skyhawks want to build? According to the coaches and players, it’s one that revolves around getting stops on defense and pushing the pace in transition. They want to be a tough team that others fear on defense.
“We just want to play hard defense, get the defensive board, and run because that’s how our offense runs,” senior Ben Pak said. “Out in transition we can make plays, we can have guards who can find people in deep-corners for threes. It all starts on defense.”
The Skyhawks have adjusted well so far – starting the season 6-1 and standing at No. 8 in the OSAAtoday 6A coaches poll -- but they acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done before they head into league play.
“Something we’ve struggled with throughout the season already is rebounding,” senior Brock Henry said. “We want to keep adding that, and it is also part of that toughness piece. Being tough enough to box a guy out and go hit him opposed to watching and waiting for the ball to come to you.”
Added Hustler: “We’re a team who can make plays at times, but I feel like we have that switch we need to flip and keep it on all the time.”
The Skyhawks always planned to play a more defensive style, much like they did a season ago. But without Galvin -- one of their go-to offensive players and leaders -- staying in the game on defense becomes a lot more important.
Their defensive emphasis will be tested next week against high-powered competition in the Les Schwab Invitational at Liberty High School. A season ago, the Skyhawks went 2-2 in the LSI, losing to national powers Oak Hill Academy (Va.) and Crespi (Calif.). If they want to improve on that record, you can be sure that it will start on the defensive end.
“We want to hang our hats on defense,” Vesel said. “We want to be a tough defensive team where you’ve got to earn everything that you get.”
Kyle Pinnell is a junior at Southridge