Gielczyk: Frankfort Ready for First Big Test

Despite finishing a respectable 16-7 last year, a record that most teams in most areas would consider a great season, the Frankfort boys basketball team was left with a bitter taste.

For the first time in six years, the Panthers did not bring home the district trophy. It was the end of their five-year reign as the district champions. It was a sad locker room afterward, as the Panthers realized their run was over before it started.

The Panthers were also filled with a resolve not to let it happen again, and with all 10 players on the roster coming back, including five starters, they have a good chance of rectifying that situation this year.

“Even though we won 16 games, we lost a little bit of our luster,” Panthers head coach Reggie Manville said. “The kids have dedicated themselves to making sure they don’t let it happen again.

“(Winning five straight district titles) is quite an accomplishment. I think sometimes, even with our fans, it’s kind of taken for granted that we’re going win. So, it was kind of a slap in the face that we’ve got to do a little more work.”

Frankfort recognized the challenge it faced coming into the season against a loaded Northwest Conference, as Buckley also returns five starters while Glen Lake brings back four.

So far in a 5-0 start, 3-0 in the conference, the Panthers have faced one tough game in their non-league matchup with the Traverse St. Francis Gladiators in Traverse City on Dec. 7 when they found themselves in an 11-point hole.

Making matters worse, the Panthers lost Matthew Stefanski to fouls in the third quarter. But, the Panthers kept their composure and rallied for a thrilling 57-56 victory behind the trio of Matt Loney, Jaylon Rogers and Griffin Kelly.

Frankfort also got major contributions off the bench from James Eno and freshman Jack Stefanski. Kelly was the leading scorer with 18 points, while Rogers hit for 14 and Loney added 13 along with eight rebounds.

“The year before, we probably would have folded up and lost that game,” said Manville. “But, they showed a lot of resolve. When you’re a returning ball player, you really can’t control how tall you’re going to be, sometimes even how strong you’re going to be.

“But, the one thing you can control is your mental aspect of the game, when you’re smarter. I think that’s what happened in that game. We were a lot more mentally strong than we’d been in the past, and in the fourth quarter we pulled it out.”

Experience helps, and in that regard the Panthers have a boat load.

Loney is in his fourth year on the varsity, Rogers has been on the varsity for three years and Kelly was on the varsity last year. All three received All-Conference honors a year ago.   Stefanski and point guard Kirk Myers also return for their second year with the big club.

Frankfort’s biggest improvement has been its depth. Manville says he can probably go eight and nine deep without worrying about any drop off in skill and talent. All 10 on the roster are quality ball players, all capable of big contributions when called on.

Eno, who was second string last year, has worked his way into a starting position.

“If we get 45 points from Eno, Rogers, Loney and Kelly … then we’re on our way offensively to a real good situation,” Manville says. “You can come up with another 10 to 15, which would put you at 60 (points per game)

“With our defense, if we score 60 we should be in every game. It would be a situation where we feel we should win most of our games.”

Rogers is leading the Panthers right now with a 17 points per game average, followed by Loney who hits for 16 and Kelly about 15, which gives the Panthers excellent scoring balance, and is in the range where Manville would like to see them.

Eno is a little bit more versatile than Stefanski, because he can guard the perimeter where Stefanski is primarily gives the Panthers an imposing inside presence on defense and the boards.

Frankfort is holding opponents to less than 40 points a game, while averaging close to 70 and is off to a 5-0 start. 3-0 in the Northwest Conference.

The Panthers have another big game coming up Thursday night when they attempt to knock off defending Northwest Conference and state runnerup Buckley on the Bears’ home floor. The Bears are 3-2 overall, but also 3-0 in the league after beating Glen Lake, 73-59 on Tuesday night.

“What’s unique about Buckley, it’s a five-guard team,” Manville offered. “A five-guard team is hard to defend because in that situation all five guys are really versatile, they can do a lot of things.

“It puts your defense in a bind, especially if you some players who are little bit bigger, and a little bit slower because you’re going to be mismatched there. It’s going to be a good game.”

How important is this game for the Panthers?

“Normally, you’d say this is a big test,” Manville said. “But, when you look at our schedule, we have four games against Buckley and Glen Lake. Then we play McBain, and they haven’t been beaten. It’s hard to say this will be our biggest game.

“What I’d like to see is improvement on the defensive side, and have our kids with a lot of emotion without being tight. I think sometimes we get caught up in it.”

Buckley beat Frankfort twice last year. The Panthers look to turn things around in round one this time.

The Panthers have to match their talent with the effort necessary to beat a state power like Buckley on its home court.

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. Gielczyk can be reached at ggielczyk@jackpine.net for story ideas. 

Categories: Boys Basketball