Gielczyk: Glen Lake Not Taking Anything for Granted
Burn the ships.
Glen Lake boys’ basketball coach Rich Ruelas adopted that expression as the Lakers’ mantra this season.
It’s a reference to 1519 when captain Hernan Cortes landed in Veracruz, Spain, to begin his great conquest.
Upon arriving, he gave the order to his men to “burn the ships.” It effectively removed the option for retreat. His men had to push forward and succeed or perish.
The Lakers had great success last year, reaching the MHSAA Class C state finals, their first since 1996, where they lost to Detroit Edison, 53-38, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing and finished 24-3.
But, that’s part of the Lakers’ history now. Ruelas wanted them to focus on the present when they started preparations for this season last summer. He stressed that was a new team, and a new year.
“Last year was last year, just like Spain. We can’t go back,” Ruelas said. “We can’t look at that. We have to be all in. We can’t worry about what we did yesterday, we just have to focus on what we do today. So that’s just kind of been our mantra all year.
“It’s a talented, well rounded team. We’ve had some injuries and such, but I think we’ve been pretty resilient and just gotten better along the way. We’ve had some peaks and valleys, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Ruelas said the challenge for the Lakers was addressing their defensive deficiencies, which were exposed during the summer and required a re-emphasis.
The Lakers appear to have solved that issue, though, especially after holding Frankfort (12-4), a team with some impressive offensive weapons, to just 29 points in a 44-29 victory on Feb. 8, holding the Panthers’ two primary scorers to a combined 10 points.
One had six, and the other four.
“We do a ton of drills, working on one-on-one defense and team defense,” Ruelas said. “How we handle screens, how we chase screens and rebounding. Making sure every possession we’re hitting our guy, and we’re getting after the boards.
“There’s not a day goes by we’re not drilling those things, but then also some different defenses just to mix it up.”
Glen Lake defeated Leland, 79-37 last Saturday for its fourth straight win after seeing a five-game winning streak snapped with a 75-58 loss to Williamston in the Martin Luther King Classic at Saginaw Valley State University back on Jan. 21.
Glen Lake improved its record to 14-2 overall and cracked the top 10 in Division 3 this week. Glen Lake has a stranglehold on the Northwest Conference lead with an 11-0 mark for a two-game lead on second place Frankfort (9-3) with three games to play before districts, weather permitting.
Among the team leaders for the Lakers are seniors Joey Fosmore and Xander Okerlund, who started as a freshman, as well as junior Reece Hazelton. Okerlund is the tallest player on the roster at 6-foot-6 and gives the Lakers a solid inside presence at both ends of the floor.
Ruelas said the key to the Lakers’ success has been their willingness to share the ball and think team first, passing up good shots for great shots which is reflected in their assists totals. In one game they had 24 assists, and in another they had 26 assists on 30 made baskets.
Just like defensively, the Lakers mix things up on offense Ruelas said.
“Some dribble drive, some motion, some pattern,” the coach continued. “We have a couple sets that we like to throw in there. That’s the other thing. We have Reece and Xander who are pretty established players.
“We’ve had teams try to take those two out, but we have some shooters. We have some guys that can knock down shots. I think that’s a testament to this team that other guys have stepped up.
“It is hard when you can only rely on two for some teams. But our team, I feel like we have quite a few weapons.”
That ability to find a scorer from anywhere on the roster at any given moment makes the Lakers difficult to defend.
Although the Lakers are in a really good position in the conference, they’re not taking anything for granted.
“We can’t look at districts, or getting back to the state finals … any of that,” Ruelas insisted. “It doesn’t matter if we don’t take care of today.”
It’s been a successful formula for the Lakers so far, and there’s no reason to change it now.
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.