Indians look for continued improvement
mike feifel/times news Lehighton boys basketball team members are sitting, from left, Anthony Rossino and Tanner Zwetolitz. Kneeling, Tyler Crum, Montreo Thompson and Tyler Williams. Back row, head coach Rich Oertner, Kris Knappenberger, Jacen Nalesnik, Hunter Greene, James Farano, Jordan Knappenberger, assistant coach Bobby Hahn Jr. and assistant coach Matt Oertner.
Rich Oertner knew he faced a challenge when he took over as the Lehighton boys basketball coach last year.
Now in his second season, he feels he has the program headed in the right direction even if the number of wins from last year doesn't necessarily show it.
"My expectations are for the team to be better this year," Oertner said. "I expect eight wins or better. I think that's realistic."
The Indians finished last season with a 3-19 record, which was an improvement over the 1-21 mark they posted the year before. Lehighton also snapped a five-year, 59 game Mountain Valley Conference losing streak last year by defeating Pleasant Valley.
Oertner believes the chemistry the team had last year will only improve this year as many of his players return.
The Indians will have seven lettermen returning this year, all of whom contributed and saw significant time in Oertner's first season.
The Indians will likely only be starting one senior, Jacen Nalesnik, who will play forward and provide the team with an inside presence.
Junior Vince Mele is slated to be the center for the Indians, although coach Oertner did admit that he is currently nursing an injury.
"Right now we're struggling with a few injuries," Oertner said. "I'd like to have 10 to 12 guys available but right now we only have about seven or eight guys in shape because of injuries.
"This is a very tough league, but I feel we can be competitive with at least half the teams in this league," said Oertner.
Sophomore Tyler Crum will be counted on to provide offense for the Indians. Junior Anthony Rossino will likely run the point and set the tempo when Lehighton has the ball. Junior James Farano will round out the Indians starting lineup.
Senior Montereo Thompson will come off the bench and contribute down low while sophomore Jordan Knappenberger will come off the bench and see time at one of the guard spots.
With all players having seen time in the starting lineup last year, coach Oertner believes that experience will pay dividends this season.
"I want the kids to understand basketball." Oertner said. "I think we can parlay what we did last year into success this season.
"I want to work towards a .500 record," said Oertner. "I want to get there either this year or next year."
Oertner may have wanted more wins last season, but he believes the team made progress in learning how to compete and play in close games.
"I thought we played a lot better during the second half of the season last year, especially when we played teams the second time." Oertner said.
The Indians have been trying as best they can to simulate close game situations during the offseason by working them into their practice routine.
"This year we've been working more on late game situations in practice because I feel we're going to be in a lot of close games this season," Oertner said. "We weren't working on those things last year.
"I want to take a step back and build on what we did last season."
That practice and preparation, coupled with last season's experience and Oertner's guidance, has the Indians primed to be successful in the very near future.