Gielczyk: Frankfort Continuing to Thrive Under Manville
Impossibly high expectations have become a way of life for Frankfort sports with league, district, regional and even state championships occurring with uncommon regularity in football, baseball, girls softball and girls basketball.
Meanwhile, the Panthers’ boys basketball team was left awash in the other sports programs’ wake. The Panthers hadn’t won a district championship in 10 years.
Until they hired Reggie Manville as coach, that is. It took the veteran coach just one year to change the boys basketball team’s culture and turn things around.
The Panthers won the district in Manville’s first season on the bench despite finishing 11-12. Then the Panthers strung together four 20-win seasons in a row.
Frankfort has been Northwest Conference champion the past two years, won its fifth consecutive district championship and third straight title a year ago but lost to Bellaire in the first game of the regional last year with a senior-laden lineup.
A few might have understandably had their doubts before this season began after the loss of five of the top seven players off last year’s team which won Northwest Conference, district and regional championships before losing in the state quarterfinals.
While he might have had the same questions in the back of his mind as the team went through off-season camps and scrimmages, Manville typically kept them to himself and reserved judgement until he could get a better grasp on the squad.
Early returns have been encouraging with the Panthers entering the Christmas break with a 3-0 record overall.
Frankfort pulled away from the Onekama Portagers with a 17-5 run to end the first half thanks to some easy layups in transition en route to a convincing 51-36 victory in the Northwest Conference opener and extended their conference winning streak to 26 straight games in the league.
"We’re going to get every team’s attention everywhere we go," Manville said. "I’m sure we’re the red letter game on the Northwest Conference schedule for all these opponents. So they’re going to come in fire up.
"So these guys have to know that we have to play at a top level all the time because as soon as we slip we’re going to have a problem. But that’s good. It makes for a very highly competitive schedule.
"And you would hope that in March because of that schedule it has prepared you to be successful in the tournament."
It seems the Panthers have reached the point where they can retool instead of rebuild.
The Panthers have two returning players from last year in juniors Matt Loney and Jaylen Rogers, who have embraced their roles as leaders on a team that has no seniors. Loney is in his third year as a starter on the varsity, while Rogers was a late-season call-up his freshman year and earned a starting spot as a sophomore.
After the first three games Rogers is averaging 21 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals per game while Loney is averaging nine points, seven rebounds, four assists and seven steals a game.
Matt Stefanski, an All-State lineman in football, spent most of his time for the basketball team on the bench last year but is now the Panthers’ starting center. Griffin Kelly was the junior varsity’s top player a year ago and he’s now starting on the varsity as well and the fifth starter is Kirk Myers, the junior varsity team’s point guard last year.
Frankfort’s sixth man right now is sophomore Jack Reznich, the son of girls basketball coach Tim Reznich.
"We have nine players, and eight of them are juniors," Manville said. "I’ve coached for a long time and I’ve never had a team with no seniors. But that’s just how it worked out. I’ve said before that Matt Loney and Jaylen Rogers are as good as there is in northern Michigan.
"I don’t care what class you’re talking about those guys are very talented. They both play a lot of summer basketball, not only with our program but down in Grand Rapids on the AAU circuit. So they’re really dedicated.
"Jaylen is a scorer. He’s got all the tools. He can take the ball to the basket and he can shoot. So he poses a big problem defensively. Matt is a little bit taller and he has a really good vertical (jump). At the same time he probably has the better ball handling skills between the two."
Manville added that both have really worked on their defense and improved greatly since they were freshmen.
Rogers has an excellent chance to be one of the top scorers in the area. Loney certainly has shown he can be one of the best all-around players contributing in every facet of the game whether it be scoring, rebounding, as a facilitator or defender.
Stefanski’s inside presence can’t be denied. At 6-foot-4 and about 300 pounds he’s hard to move around once he gets established in the post. Few teams in Class D have anyone that can match up with him.
"He’s got surprisingly soft hands for a guy that big," Manville said. "I was worried about how he was going to get in basketball condition. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised that he’s really worked hard.
"We just had a game against (Traverse City) St. Francis which was just up and down. It was played at a torrid pace and he held right in there. I would say Matt Stefanski and Kirk Myers are the two biggest surprises.
"Kirk not having any varsity experience playing the point guard position, I was concerned. Nate Frieswyk had it for two years and just ran the team with a lot of poise. (Kirk) has had a little ankle injury but for the three games he’s played he’s really done a fine job.
"Then we have Griffin Kelly who is probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen in this area. I mean the kid’s a great football player, he’s going to be a good basketball player and he’s a heck of a baseball player. He’s just one of those athletes that when they step on the field of competition they are just very fierce and they compete on a very high level. He’s the fastest kid I’ve ever coached."
Manville, 70, and assistant coach Dan Loney are just trying to get Kelly to use that speed efficiently on offense and defense.
Reznich is probably the team’s third best shooter and especially productive from the perimeter. He’s only a sophomore and has a long way to go but is working on his defense and rebounding. James Eno has never played before but is learning.
Last year’s team was exceptionally well rounded. Most of the seniors had been on the varsity for three years and compiled an 82-19 record over that span.
"If I compare this year’s team is considerably quicker," Manville noted. "We can get up and down the court. I think that was evident against Traverse City (St. Francis). We scored a lot of points in transition. We get Loney, Roger and Kelly out in the open court they’re really good.
"My teams are always based on rebounding and defense. We have to work in both of those areas. We’re not real big so everybody has to contribute on the boards. Defensively it’s just a team concept that we have that they have to incorporate their skills to go along with our philosophy on defense which is man-to-man. It’s a work in progress."
It’s a new group that has taken the baton from last year’s team. They don’t want to drop it.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News.