Rich Oertner loves a challenge.
As the new head coach of the Lehighton boys basketball team, he definitely has one.
The former Northern Lehigh mentor takes over a program that has won just five games over the past four seasons, including a 1-21 mark a year ago. The Indians have also suffered 50 straight conference losses, and haven't had a winning season since the 2000-01 season.
Despite that, Oertner feels better days are ahead.
"I'm looking at it as a challenge to try and rebuild something," said Oertner, whose nine-year record at Northern Lehigh was 162-98. "My goal is to get this program up and going and next year win 11 games and qualify for districts. This year the goal is to get better and next year it's to win half our games.
"I told the kids it might be a little bit of a rough year this year but to look down the road. We only have two seniors and next year when they've learned the system it will be a lot easier. I've already seen a lot of improvement in just a couple of weeks."
While the two seniors (Alex Guyn and Nate Kresge) this year may not be around for future success, they will play a pivotal role in the program getting off the ground this season.
Kresge, who averaged 5.3 points per game and hit 20 three-pointers a year ago, will start in the backcourt while Guyn (3.2 ppg), at 6-4, will play in the post. D.J. Rossino, another senior, would have joined Kresge in the backcourt as the team's point guard but will probably miss the season due to an injury. Rossino averaged 10.2 in his junior year.
"D.J. out hurt us drastically," said Oertner. "We do have two seniors back with experience. The kids work hard and listen to whatever we tell them. They should improve a whole lot as we go along but I imagine it's going to be a slow start.
"There are a lot of road blocks here. The league is very difficult, and the travel is very difficult. And just in general I think the kids need to have a little bit of pride within themselves and confidence that they can succeed. Once the confidence comes and they win a couple of games, I think they'll get better."
The rest of the starting lineup will probably include 6-1 junior Jacen Nalesnik and 6-4 sophomore Vince Mele up front and sophomore Anthony Rossino at the point.
Freshmen Tyler Crum and Jordan Knappenberger will also see time at the guard spots while junior transfer Montero Thompson will come off the bench to contribute in the paint.
"We may go up-tempo, but we're also going to focus on trying to run an offense. Defensively we may try a 3-2 match. What we've been harping to them is to stop the fastbreak layups and make teams earn every shot. If we can make teams earn every shot, then we have a chance to win some games.
"My goal is to win as many games as possible," said Oertner. "The kids know once the game starts, we're going to play to win. For it to be a successful year I think we do have to win some games. I have to see improvement and hopefully see a little more enthusiasm. I think once the kids see a little success, they'll start to take some pride in what's going on."