By Tony Hooker
For the 21st time, Villa Grove Boys’ Basketball Coach Dan Sappenfield finds himself prepping a team for the upcoming season. He recently took some time to discuss his second year at the helm of the Villa Grove Boys Basketball squad.
What are your early impressions of the 2022-23 Blue Devils?
I like how the kids are working. I think they understand the system, which is so different than last year when we had so many new things to put in. It was a learning experience. This year, they walk on the court knowing what to expect from me and I know what to expect from them so we can get through things a lot quicker now.
Anyone surprise you?
I wouldn’t say just one, I would say there are several. All of them came in ready and eager. They’re hungry to improve on what we did last year when it didn’t turn out like we wanted it to in terms of wins and losses. We had lost eight kids from the year before, but we still have 8 kids from the junior class. That’s a big core, numbers-wise. We have some seniors and a few sophomores to surround them with. I do like the fact that Coltin Benschneider is out. I think he’s in tremendous shape and he’s going to help us. My seniors, Parker (Stevens) Peyton (Smith) and Bobby (Fancher) know that this is their last go around and I see them working extremely hard.
How many players are out this year?
We have 20.
So, you’re going to be able to have a good, full Junior Varsity squad as well as Varsity?
We’re going to be a tall JV team! <laughs> We’ve got some good height on the team.
Will you have a freshman team?
No, we’ve only got two freshmen out. Next year we’re hoping to get even more freshmen to come out, and I think we will, which will allow us to make the JV team even more solid.
What areas do you think you need to improve upon the most?
It’s early, so it’s hard to tell. I mean, we look good because we’ve only been going against each other. Until you step on the court and play you don’t know. Our first game is against Oakwood, so that’s going to tell us a lot. We’ll learn a lot about ourselves. I think we can win that game; I don’t think there’s a game on our schedule that we can’t win this year, it’s a matter of those kids believing in themselves and letting adversity work its way through and just playing hard.
What do you feel will be your strengths?
Our speed and our defense. Our defense is going to have to dictate our offense.
With good depth, you might be able to speed some teams up with pressure?
We definitely want to run. These kids want to play fast, so we’re not going to run a lot of sets, there’s going to be a lot of reading and reacting and they’re going to be players. It’s a lot more fun being a player, rather than having to move from spot to spot. We’re going to react to what the defense is trying to do and take advantage of it.
It looks like you’ve got some good height in the post?
We’ve got great height in the post, along with some good athleticism. I think we’ve got to get better at finishing in the post, but they’re working on it every day. I see improvements every day, and they’re working really hard. We’ve got guards that will break you down and if they kick it to you, you better be ready to score. They are quick, we’ve probably got one of the quickest guards in the area in Layne. (Rund) As elusive as he was on the football field, he’s the same on the court, except he can dribble! His handles are great, he’s a shooter. He’s a very talented young man who’s going to set a lot of people up, which will get him some easier shots down the road.
Would you say that the backcourt is going to be your biggest strength?
<hesitantly> Yeah. I would say that our backcourt is our strength, but I think you’ve got what you would want as the nucleus of a complete team. We haven’t played a game yet, but it looks like we have a complete team and a nice bench to contribute and keep us fresh.
Who are the returning starters?
We have Parker Stevens. Parker’s done a great job moving to the point. Bobby Fancher, Layne Rund and Brady Clodfelder. We have a couple of kids who might be ready to move into the starting lineup. Kyler Williams has really improved a lot and Lucas Shadwick, a sophomore who can come in and give us instant offense. His defense has improved a lot, also. I was looking on my stats, and 77% of our offense and 72% of our rebounding are back this season. If we want to push the ball, we’re going to have to rebound. That’s our focus and we have to do a better job this year.
Any freshmen who can contribute?
Jackson Gilles and Thomas Vandeventer are our two freshmen, and they’re nice ball players. They’re going to develop into very nice varsity players. One sophomore who has come in and worked extremely hard and is playing very well is Cooper Clark. Cooper is making shots; he’s handling the JV team very well. He’s just a smart kid. He can help us a lot in the future. He’s as deadly a shot as we’ve got. I feel like every time he shoots it, it’s going in.
What do you think the ceiling is for this team?
As we were talking about yesterday, setting goals, I don’t think this team understands how high they can go. Can I get them to understand that they can contend for a conference title and a regional title? We have all the parts here. We’ve got athleticism and depth in the post, we’ve got wings, we’ve got forwards, we’ve got one of the best guards, we’ve got shooters. We’ve got what it takes. Can we dig in defensively and make the other team work for their shots? I think we can.