Gielczyk: Manton off to Quick Start this Winter
After getting off to a 0-3 last year, the Manton boys basketball team finished the season 17-5, won the Highland Conference and a district title before losing to Sanford Meridian in the first round of the regional.
This year the Rangers won their first two games heading into Thursday night’s road trip to Beal City, and are on course to enjoy perhaps an even more eventful campaign.
Manton lost five players off last year’s team, including perhaps its best in Trever Salani who is playing at Alma now.
“He was a big piece to the puzzle,” said Rangers coach Ryan Hiller. “He scored the most.”
But, the Rangers do return four starters, including junior point guard Kaleb Moore who makes the offense go, doesn’t turn the ball over, has a nice shot and can get to the rim.
Also coming back is senior shooting guard Isaac Raden who is averaging just a little over 20 points a game, and has perhaps the best first step on the team and is explosive getting to the basket. He’s also a strong rebounder.
Jacob Haun, a senior, can play the post at close to 6-foot and runs the floor “like a deer” his coach says. He works extremely hard.
He led the team in charges taken last year, a statistic that often goes largely unnoticed by the casual fan. But, it shows he’s willing to put his body in front of somebody, and is great off ball defender.
The other returner is senior Cole Regnerus, who is about 6-3 and is what Hiller calls the Rangers’ “stretch center.” He can play inside or outside, and guard anybody.
“We can put him on their point guard, we can put him on their big guy,” said Hiller. “He can hit the open three when needed.
“He’s nursing a pretty bad high ankle sprain right now. He has not been his explosive self ever since he sprained (it), and really hasn’t been practicing at all. He’s just been playing in games the last two weeks. Hopefully, over break we can get him all rested up. He’s a very good player when he’s healthy.”
The last starter returning is Lucas McKernan, who came up to the varsity as a freshman last year and while he still has a lot to learn, should be a big help to the lineup by February once he builds up his confidence.
Jacob Ruppert, a junior, is the Rangers’ big man coming off the bench. Hiller says he’s a very athletic 6-2 player, and led the team in rebounds the first game with 10.
“The Highland is pretty competitive this year. A lot of seniors,” Hiller said. “A lot of teams that are senior led. McBain is going to be tough again. They have the height every year. That length on the court helps you win games.
“We have a really tough league this year. Then we added Roscommon and Houghton Lake (to the non-conference schedule). Roscommon has a big 6-7 kid who is a beast down low.
“If we don’t have injuries and stay healthy, I think we can be at the top of our league again, competing for a conference championship.
“(But) I think it’s going to harder this year than last year. Last year, we snuck up on people. We had lost, basically four starters the previous year, so people had us picked in the middle or lower.”
Now, with the same players back, the Rangers have a target on their back.
The Rangers won’t be the underdog this year, and will have to come ready to play every night.
So far, so good.
“We get up the floor pretty quick, and so we’re getting a lot of transition points,” Hiller said. “Now, we just have to keep working getting more fluid on our half court offense.
“And we have to tighten some things up on defense, and our rebounding isn’t great yet. Salin was a decent rebounder, and was big, so we have a few holes there.”
The Rangers play mostly man-to-man on defense, and like to pressure the other team. Manton has enjoyed success doing that the last few years.
But, even though the Rangers have four starters back and are farther along this year already than they were last year at this time, the other guys are still learning the system. That will be the key for the Rangers moving forward.
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.