Gielczyk: Frankfort Progressing in Loney’s 1st Season
Frankfort would like the Elk Rapids game back, but other than that first-year boys basketball coach Dan Loney has been generally pleased with how the Panthers have looked overall in their first six games of the season.
The Panthers got off to a 3-0 start before stumbling against the Elks, 59-51 on Dec. 12, but closed out 2018 with a two-game winning streak and entered the Christmas break with a 5-1 record.
Loney took over a program that saw a return to prominence under Reggie Manville, which included five district championships, three regional titles and a trip to the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Final Four under his watch.
Although he had informed the school he would coach one more season before his wife retired and the couple plan on doing a lot of traveling going forward, Manville was notified that he would not return as coach this season without providing any specific reason behind the decision.
In what turned out to be Manville’s last game as the Panthers’ coach, Frankfort saw its tournament run cut short with a 45-42 loss to Northwest Conference rival Suttons Bay. The Norsemen had upset the Panthers in the district final in 2017, but the Panthers were a veteran team and had swept the regular season series with Suttons Bay.
The Panthers are coming off a 20-3 season, and eager to end a two-year district title drought. Suttons Bay pulled off an upset over the Panthers in the district final two years ago.
Loney isn’t making any predictions so early in the season, as he is still determining lineup rotations and who plays well in certain situations, but there’s no doubt the Panthers are looking ahead to the district tournament and beginning a longer post-season run.
“I’m kind of spoiled, honestly, it’s a good group of kids,” Loney said. “They’re super smart, they listen, they’re super coachable, so they make my job a lot easier.
“But, yes, they’ve been progressing well. We’re super pleased with that. I think we learned a lot from the loss to the Elks. We’re kind of regrouping, going over some things we want to work on.
“There are things we can change. A tight game like that was a good learning experience. It’s been fun.”
Loney said the Panthers’ early success has been the result of a group effort, with no one player standing out, therefor making it difficult for defenses to key on any individual player.
Jack Stefanski and William Newbold have been pretty much shouldering the bulk of the scoring load, but Conner Smith and Jack Reznich are both averaging around 10 points a game.
Frankfort has also been getting solid contributions from the reserves off the bench, who Loney said have done a good job of maintaining the flow of the game.
Outside of Manistee, everyone has played zone against the Panthers and Loney says they’ve become proficient at running a zone offense, where to get the ball and how to score.
“The first couple games were sloppy, but toward the break we played Onekama and our guys did a really nice job of getting it to the right spots in the zone, making the right passes and getting some easy shots,” Loney added.
“As far as against a man-to-man, obviously we want to push the ball and we want to try to fast break when we can so we don’t have to run half-court. But, not a lot is different from the past years.”
Frankfort has always considered defense its major strength, and this year is no different.
Like most coaches, Loney believes defense creates easy offense. It’s almost a religion with the Panthers.
“The kids know that if you want to play, and play meaningful minutes, defense is probably going to outweigh your offense at times,” Loney said. “If you can be a great defender, you can sneak in a lot of minutes.
“We’re going to play defense, and we’re going to rebound. Hopefully we can hold teams in the 40’s, and make it a ball game.”
Frankfort has won the league title three out of the last four years, and Loney hopes to make that four out of the last five.
But the path is strewn with potential hazards, and with every possession holding great importance.
“There’s expectations as far as what Frankfort is, or what Frankfort was, so we always keep that in the back of our mind,” Loney says. “But, the kids do a great job of that.
“Whether it’s baseball, football, wrestling… whatever it is. It’s just a pick up the ball where it’s rolling type of thing.”
Frankfort looks to extend its current winning streak when it travels to Suttons Bay on Friday to resume the season.
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 email@example.com for story ideas.