Just as quickly as teams fall from contenders to doormats, they can rise back up to respectability.
For years Northwestern's boys basketball program was a district playoff contender. It was a team that nearly always made districts and sometimes competed for titles there and at the league level. But over the last four seasons the team has tailed off.
The Tigers have won just one league game and three games overall in the past two seasons. But they plan to make a huge comeback this year.
"I want to make districts," said senior guard Ty Richardson, the team's most experienced returning varsity player. "Our team goal is to make districts, maybe even the league playoffs. We want to at least win 12 or 14 games this season."
It's a lofty goal for a team coming off a 1-15 Colonial League season and a 2-20 campaign overall. But the Tigers, under second-year head coach Dan Eddinger, feel they have improved in many areas.
"I think they're ready to take the next step here," said Eddinger. "What is the next step? I don't know. Hopefully the next step means we can find a way to qualify for districts so the program starts to taste a little bit of what it feels like to play in them."
The Tigers most important improvements came in two fundamental areas – ball handling and defense.
Sophomore Josh Williamson gives the team a true point guard and fellow guards Mason Schuler, Cam Richardson or David Wagner could also bring the ball up the court.
The team will look to get the ball inside to 6-foot-6 senior Jarred Binder. Last year when the Tigers were able to get into their offense, they often tried to force the ball into Binder. This year, with better shooters, ball handlers and penetrators, they have more options on offense.
"Going to the hole is going to be a strength," said Eddinger. "Our outside shooting should be a strength. Our basketball IQ is tremendously better than last year, but I'd like to see us continue to grow that throughout the program."
Defensively, the Tigers played a lot of zone last year. Although Eddinger prefers man to man, he felt the players were overloaded last year learning a new offense.
This year he plans to keep the Tigers in man to man as much as possible. And the team likes it.
"I definitely think man to man is a better option for us because we have a lot of speed this year," said Schuler, a senior. "When you're in zone you get lackadaisical, but in man you're always moving because you have to be in certain help spots at times."
The team brings back five players that began last season on the varsity team in Ty Richardson, Schuler, Binder, Wagner and Richard Perry.
Williamson, Cam Richardson and Collin Breidinger came up from JV around midseason last year and saw varsity minutes. Junior Justin Betz rounds out this year's nine-man roster.
The five seniors want to make their first district tournament since joining the program. But, more importantly, they have confidence that they can.
"It's a goal every year," said Eddinger. "Some years it's realistic. Some years it's not. The boys really think they can do it. That's the first step, believing they can do it. The second step is doing it. I think it's important we get off to a quick start this year with some wins. I think that will help."