ANNA — Anna is used to having teams match its pace for spurts in Shelby County Athletic League play — but not necessarily for an entire game. That may change this year, and the Rockets will get their first test on Friday night.
Botkins, which is under the guidance of new coach Sean Powell, will travel to Anna as both teams open the 2018-19 season. Friday is the first day of boys basketball play throughout the state.
The game is one of two SCAL contests to start the season. Jackson Center travels to Anna on Friday, while Houston will host Minster in nonconference play.
The Rockets have shown the ability to light up the scoreboard under seventh-year coach Nathan Barhorst. They broke 60 points in 18 of their 26 games last year and scored over 70 nine times.
Aside from that, the Rockets play fast defense and can fluster opponents. Botkins will look to do the same this year.
“You get to see that from teams we play here and there, but not everybody does it,” Barhorst said. “Everybody can give pressure, but not everybody likes to do it the whole game. Towards the end of the games when teams are down is when you see teams do it most often, but you don’t see it for 32 minutes.
“That’s something we’re going to have to be ready for from Botkins, and I know they’re going to try to instill their will upon us with that kind of pressure defense.”
Powell, who succeeds longtime coach Brett Meyer, has installed a motion offense and man-to-man defense at Botkins. The Trojans will try to play at a pace that matches Anna.
“We started prepping for that back in April, with our weight room and conditioning,” Powell said. “They’ve been training to play a faster-pace game. They’ve been working hard. It hasn’t been that hard, because we have a lot of track kids and kids that run cross country. The whole running thing seems natural.
“… I believe any kid can get up and down and play fast if that’s how they choose. We’ve been keeping a fast pace at practice, which is something I learned while (an assistant) with Matt Tabler at (Lima) Perry. Just trying to keep practice as fast as how you want to play the game.”
How fast? Well, on Friday, it may be rapid. With it being the first game of the season, there’s no game film to watch and prepare, and little to gain from scouting each other’s scrimmages.
“Not being able to scout them, and I imagine them not being able to scout us, I think it’s going to be a high-scoring game,” Powell said. “We’ll keep the pace up, and hopefully it’s a slugfest.”
Anna tied for the SCAL championship with Fort Loramie and Russia last season and is looking to be among the league’s best again. The Rockets return three key players from last year’s squad, including senior power forward Griffin Doesck, who averaged 10.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
The Rockets had a successful summer according to Barhorst, the highlights of which included winning a highly-competitive shootout at Fort Loramie, which also included Botkins. He’s happy with how the team has improved through the course of preseason, especially since many players were apart of Anna’s football team, which earned a playoff berth.
“They’re coming along,” Barhorst said. “When you get the football kids back, you’ve got to try to get as many shots up as you can while trying to get the offense together. Defensively, it’s something we’re really trying to concentrate on this year. We feel we have guys that can put the ball in the hole. One thing that we want to have is great defensive play and the ability to rebound. If you can capitalize on those areas, I feel we can be okay.”
Botkins returns four starters, including senior forward Spencer Heuker, who averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game last year.
“From what I hear, it’s a young and upcoming team that’s really establishing tempo,” Barhorst said. “They’ve got some young kids that are stepping up for them, and kids we’re going to have to hold ourselves accountable for.
“… They’re going to be a high-tempo team and a team that’s going to get after it defensively, so we’re going to be ready for that style of play.”
Powell has been pleased with the team’s progress in preseason and said he’s looking forward to see how they play against one of the SCAL’s best on Friday.
“We’re young, but (our kids) talented,” Powell said. “I’ve got a great group of boys. They bring it every day in practice. The goal is to get better every day and bring your eyes and ears and energy. So far, they’ve done a good job of that.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.