LAKEVILLE — Team defense has been the recipe for LaVille’s success this postseason, but the Lancers may face an even more formidable D when they tip off against No. 7 Bowman Academy in the North Judson-San Pierre Regional this Saturday.
LaVille (18-6) takes on the Eagles (14-9) in the late semifinal at the Judson tourney, scheduled to follow the regional opener between Fort Wayne Bishop Luers (15-6) and Boone Grove (14-8) at 11 a.m. ET.
The Lancers enter the tournament boasting the seventh best defensive average in the state, holding teams to less than 34 points per game. In 16 different outings this year, LaVille has held its opponents to 41 points or less, going 15-1 in the process, including victories over Prairie Heights and host Westview en route to the team’s Sectional 35 championship last week.
But while Bowman Academy’s numbers may not stack up against those statistics, Lancers head coach Michael Edison thinks the Eagles likely present his team with the sternest defensive challenge it’s yet seen this season.
“They are an extremely athletic, quick team. They have probably the most stifling defense I have seen all year. They’re pretty amazing on defense — they will get out and trap you, they’ll run a 2-2-1 fullcourt trap, and they will try to trap the ball at all places of the court,” he said.
“They’ve been forcing quality teams into tons and tons of turnovers. Their defense and their transition pretty much makes up their offense.”
Bowman uses its pressure defense to get out and run in the fullcourt, so key to limiting the Eagles on offense will be avoiding turnovers for transition buckets. The outcome will likely boil down to who can impose their will on the other team as LaVille looks to stay patient in the halfcourt in a down-tempo game, and Bowman tries to turn up the pace in a clash of styles.
“It’s going to be extremely tough for us,” said Edison. “My goal is to get the ball past halfcourt. Maybe we can do that for one minute. If we can, maybe we can try for two minutes. If not, they’ll be getting easy dunks, and we’ll be giving good assists to them.”
“Our goal is to try and keep things simple, take care of the ball,” he continued. “If we can get it in the halfcourt offense, work it a little bit, try to get high percentage shots, and force them to play a little bit of defense. Get them into our type of game instead of us getting into their up-and-down type of game.”
LaVille’s run to Saturday’s regional has been a special one.
The Lancers are one win away from the program’s all-time best season in 1984-85. Their Westview Sectional championship, in addition to being LaVille’s first under the multi-class state tournament — was the team’s first since 1986, and the community response has been overwhelming.
“It all kind of depends on if you think three decades is a long time,” said Edison with a laugh. “It has been a long time. It’s something that’s extremely special to our community. I’ve had people come up to me, I’ve had people break down and cry telling me that their son had played and had never had a chance to win the sectional. They treated us as we came home from the game with firetrucks and a parade, so to speak.
“We’re planning on having a pep session Thursday night, and our athletic director thinks that it’s going to be pretty packed. I just know that I’ve felt so much support from community members, from administrators, from teachers. And it’s just great for our kids.”
“It just wasn’t for our team, it was for the fans, it was for the past teams that got where they needed to be and didn’t win the championship,” said LaVille senior shooting guard Andrew Hostetler after his team’s sectional championship win Saturday night. “At the beginning of the season we had one goal and that was to win sectional, so to get here and finally win it means a lot, and I’m glad that everybody came out and supported us the way they did.”
While defense has provided the on-court formula for the Lancers’ feel-good campaign, team chemistry, an often-overlooked aspect of the game, has been the catalyst behind the scenes, say players and coaches.
“Our chemistry is great. I can’t think of anyone on the team that doesn’t hang out with everyone after practice,” said LaVille senior Nick Amor. “When we come to practice we’re all talking; we’re all having a good time. It helps a lot when we’re talking on defense, getting our switches down and getting that backside rotation because everyone has each other’s back on this team.”
Edison believes the close bonds among his players started with a mission trip to the Domenican Republic two years ago. It was an experience that drew the players together and one they still talk about.
“Any time a group goes on a mission trip, for one thing you usually go to a place that’s a lot poorer, so you realize how good you have it,” said the Lancers boss. “You usually stay in accommodations that aren’t quite as fancy as what you’re used to and you usually eat food that might not be the best; I’m not saying it was terrible. You see what other people live like, and it tends to draw people closer. In that week to 10 days that we were gone I felt like my group of guys more than just getting better at basketball — because we played some basketball there — we just grew as a team. I felt like we started to care about each other more, and we started to care about the simple things in life.”
The close ties among LaVille’s players extend to the team’s coaching staff as well, a supporting staff with one of the most impressive resumes in the state.
For starters, there’s Michael’s father Jack, an Indiana High School Hall of Famer who presided over the winningest era in Plymouth High School history. Another Plymouth coaching alum, Kevin Stuckmeyer, joined the cast last year after a three-year head coaching stint with the Pilgrims, and he was joined this year by another former head coach in Jimtown’s Derrick DeShone, the son of longtime Jimmies coach Randy DeShone.
“I believe I have the best assistant coaches in the state. Any time you have a Hall of Fame coach as an assistant, you’re not doing too shabby to start out. My dad’s just amazing. Talk about somebody who’s just selfless and willing to serve and just does so many little things for me and the team,” said Edison.
“Then you throw in somebody who I have so much respect for in Kevin Stuckmeyer, who knows the game extremely well. He and I just think so much alike, and he has volunteered his time this year. He doesn’t even get paid. He’s my JV coach, but he said he would only be the JV coach if he could still help me at the varsity level… Then we have Derrick DeShone who was a first-year head coach last year at Jimtown. I have so much respect for him and his dad. I consider Randy DeShone to be one of the top-notch coaches in the area. His teams were always tough for other teams to beat whether he had much talent or not, and I see a lot of the same things in Derrick that his dad possesses.”
The Lancers are up against an intimidating field as they look for a program-first regional championship this weekend, and while all the hubbub surrounding their first sectional championship in nearly three decades has felt good, it’s also been a bit distracting. Edison said he’s trying to keep his players grounded, but he also believes they’ll be focused and ready come game time Saturday.
“It’s really been nice for our guys. I’m trying to stay as focused as we can this week, but we’ve had people trying to take us out for meals, we’ve got a pep session planned, we’re going out to North Judson to practice, and I’m just wanting to stay as grounded as we can so we’re as focused as we can possibly be,” he said. “Even though I believe we’re underdogs and we have a low-percentage chance, when it comes down to it, the way I see it is these are the type of kids that will battle every possession, and they’re going to play as hard as they can. I’m not counting our guys out, I don’t care what the odds are against us.”