By Lenny Sementi
Second year head boys’ basketball coach Justin Bozarth started off his tenure with the Warriors leaning on the moniker “Build the Brand.” His goal was simple: lead Tuscola’s program to the next level. Last season was the starting point, despite just logging seven wins, his Warriors shocked the Central Illinois Conference with an upset win over top seeded Shelbyville in the opening round of the league tournament. Starting with tip off this season, every year forward will be used as a measuring stick.
He entered his opener this past Saturday boasting a roster that included four seniors and 34 players in all. The second-year coach hit the floor running a year ago, but a berth in the state football championships limited his varsity to just a few practices prior to their opener. This year’s football season went long as well, just not as long, and the Warriors took full advantage of the extra court time by delivering a win in their opener and running past Okaw Valley 58-49 behind a big second half by Jacob Kibler.
“We came out of football season in good health,” commented the coach. “Our team chemistry out of the gate and our ability to play several guys from different age groups will tell the tale as the season moves along.”
Kibler, a junior that saw varsity time a year ago, led the Warriors with 19 points, with 17 coming in the second half. He fell just two boards short of a double-double grabbing eight rebounds. Senior Brayden VonLanken and freshman Jalen Quinn reached the double digit plateau as well each scoring 11 points in the non-conference victory.
“Jake is a slasher, he is a offensive scoring threat and good on-the-ball defender,” stated Bozarth. “Brayden was our leading scorer a year ago and will be pivotal for us down low, Jalen is young, just a freshman, but he is very athletic and can score in multiple ways. Will Little at the off guard won our defensive award winner a year ago and is an emotional leader for us.”
Tuscola sent out VonLanken, Quinn, Kibler, Little, and Kresin to start the first game of the year, and senior and leading rebounder a year ago Luke Sluder was the first Warrior off the bench. The lineup will go through changes early in the season in an attempt to hit full stride before the Holiday Hoopla at Monticello after Christmas. Ben Dixon is another athletic weapon Bozarth will lean on off the bench.
The full story can be found in the Wednesday, Dec. 5 edition of The Tuscola Journal.