Gielczyk: Manistee CC Gears up for 2019-20 Season
After losing five seniors off last year’s team that lost in the Division 4 district championship game to Western Michigan D League rival Walkerville, the Manistee Catholic Central boys basketball team would seem to be in a rebuilding mode coming into this season.
But, as ESPN football analyst Lee Corso says, “Not so fast!”
Yes, the Sabers are going to be hard pressed to replace so many players who were, as coach Mike Feliczak says, good athletes and excellent leaders who showed the way on the court for a team that finished a respectable 14-7.
The Sabers were 14-3 in the WMD last year.
Remember, however, that this is a new year and every team, regardless of its level of experience, will have a new look.
For the Sabers, their new look precipitated by the departure of the seniors could just be more pleasing to their fans than it might seem at this points.
One of the major returning contributors is Kyle Mikolajczak, who gives the Sabers an imposing inside presence and is also capable of knocking down shots from the perimeter.
Feliczak said Mikolajczak has played a lot of summer basketball, and sharpened his skills, as well as his shooting eye, against some outstanding competition.
He was brought up from the junior varsity to play in a handful of varsity contests as a sophomore, and was a contributor in the district final.
He showed that he knew how to use his size to good advantage against much older players with more experience.
Last year he was the only junior to be named to the WMD All-League First Team, and is expected to be a repeat selection this year.
“While his size alone, with his long arms, make him a defensive presence in the post, he can do so much more,” Feliczak said.
“You watch him play, and he’s a load to handle. He can get to the ball coming off the glass or rim because he has that great reach.
“Once he has the offensive rebound, he doesn’t hesitate. He takes it back up to the basket. He’s instinctive that way. He takes one dribble, and moves a step to get away from a defender. He’s hard to stop.”
Having established himself as a bonafide scoring and rebounding threat with his consistent production, Mikolajczak drew special attention from opposing defenses last year, and is sure to have two and even three defenders hounding his every move this year, attempting to keep the ball out of his hands.
But, in trying to take Mikolajczak away from the Sabers opponents will be leaving other players open, and that could prove highly dangerous.
The Sabers have other scoring options this year, including senior Jalen Tabaczka and juniors Blake Johnson and Mateo Barnett.
A streak shooter last year, who could burn teams from beyond the 3-point arc if he got hot, Tabaczka has worked to be more patient and take better shots this season.
He’ll also be triggering the offense from up top, and is a stout defender.
“We’re asking him to do a lot, but I think he has the talent and mental mindset to handle it,” Feliczak said. “Like everyone else, he’s been working hard in practice, and I expect him to do well.”
Johnson’s strong suit is his shooting. He can blister a defense with his long bombs, or slash inside the paint, either putting in a layup or drawing a foul and going to the free throw line.
Barnett, who is also playing for the Manistee High School co-op hockey team this winter, uses his speed to race past defenders to get to the basket.
If the path to the hoop is blocked, Barnett will stop and hit a pull-up jumper. He, too, is a dangerous shooter from long range.
“Everyone can handle the ball, so anyone can bring the ball down the floor on offense,” Feliczak said. “But, I think our biggest asset is our speed.
“The combination of speed and ball handling means we can press teams more often than we have in the past, and maybe get some offense from our defense.”
But, with a short bench, Feliczak noted that the Sabers have to be judicious in their use of the press.
The Sabers need to avoid foul trouble, and fatigue. They can’t afford to have tired legs, especially in the fourth quarter.
It still remains to be seen how the new players respond and produce once the games start, it’s clear Feliczak is optimistic about the Sabers’ chances of getting out of the district.
Once that happens, there’s no telling how far the Sabers could go.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.