Boys basketball: Ashby working to turn things around amid low numbers
It wasn’t that long ago that the Ashby boys basketball team was one of the best in the Little Eight Conference and section fields.
The Arrows had size and athleticism at a lot of positions shortly after head coach Jeremy Knick joined the program almost seven years ago.
“When you look at those teams, I inherited some really good players,” Knick said. “You’re talking guys like Riley Mickelson, Blake Ohren, Tanner Langlie and JP Moe – lots of good players and they played a lot of basketball when they were young.”
Ashby would love to get back to that level of play, but it’s going to take some patience. The Arrows are dealing with a numbers shortage right now like Knick has never seen in the program. They are unable to field a junior varsity team this season.
Their roster consists of two seniors in Chase Kamrath and Rolland Fossell and one junior in co-captain Christian Koefod. Koefod was dealing with an injury that kept him out of a home matchup against Rothsay on Tuesday, meaning Ashby had just two players available off the bench.
“It’s a challenge,” Knick said. “We’ve never encountered where we weren’t able to field a JV team. We knew it was going to be a down year (with numbers), but we didn’t know it was going to be this down. There are a few guys who we were hoping would come out that didn’t go out. Would it have really changed whether we would have been able to field a JV team? Probably not, but we’ve got good numbers in our junior high program.”
Knick has been happy with the way his guys have battled for much of this season. They already have two wins, both against Wheaton-Herman-Norcross. That’s one more than they had a year ago.
They welcomed in Rothsay on Tuesday for an LEC game that the Tigers won 56-44. Ashby tied the game at 20 late in the first half with a three from sophomore Christian Norby. Rothsay responded with a 10-0 run over nearly two minutes, including a three at the buzzer from Landon Lang that gave his team all the momentum.
“It brought the team down kind of, hurt our spirit,” Ashby sophomore Scott Johnson said. “Most of the time we make a run back and try to get back into the game, but tonight it didn’t happen like that.”
Johnson is Ashby’s leading scorer and finished with 15 points on Tuesday. Norby added 11, while Fossell chipped in nine points. Fossell helped alleviate some of the roster concerns with numbers by coming out as a senior for the first time this year.
“It’s pretty different,” Fossell said of playing with such low numbers in the program. “We have our coaches (practicing with us) half the time. Games, you just have to work extra hard when you’re out there…we work really hard. We just let go and little things slip away and it turns into big things and the game just gets away from us.”
Knick wants this season to be a learning experience for his guys. He called a timeout in the second half to talk about moving the ball more effectively to get better shots. With two sophomores, three freshmen and an eighth grader in 6-foot forward Jaden Norby on the roster, there are young players who Knick hopes will be the foundation of a turnaround.
“I just want to see them grow,” Knick said. “They’re earning valuable experience. I want them to learn how to think the game because the varsity level is different. There’s definitely some players who probably wouldn’t be starting for sure, but at the same time I’ve been very impressed with the maturity they’ve played with in many of our games.”
Ashby is dealing with low numbers in the school in general right now with 69 students in grades 9-12. Rothsay is the only LEC program with lower numbers at 62, with Brandon-Evansville (102), Parkers Prairie (140), Battle Lake (144), Underwood (143) and Hillcrest (178) all featuring more than 100.
Knick says he talks to his players a lot about their mental approach to the game – how this group needs to play to be competitive. That often means trying to control tempo and not getting into an up and down affair with opponents.
“We want to compete in every game we play in and maybe we’ll come out with a few wins in the process,” Johnson said. “Most of us are underclassmen. Our only seniors are Rolland and Chase. A lot of the starters are younger too, so we have a lot of kids coming up that can play and hopefully we can get back to winning a lot of games.”
Knick is confident that they can. Ashby has joined with West Central Area in sports like wrestling and football and with Brandon-Evansville in track and field, but there are currently no plans to make a similar move in basketball.
“I definitely think we’re going to see a big bounce back,” Knick said. “Next year gets a little bit better and the year after that it gets a lot better. The numbers in our youth programs are pretty solid right now. In the foreseeable future, I see us continuing the tradition of Ashby basketball. These guys are doing a good job of representing us and our school, too.”
As numbers climb back up, the Arrows believe the wins can follow in the future.
“I think even going into next year,” Knick said. “We’re not going to have great numbers, but when you bring back all five guys I think you have something to build on, especially when they are doing a pretty good job of competing and getting better. I definitely see us getting there again.”
ROTHSAY 30 26 – 56
ASHBY 20 24 - 44
ROTHSAY SCORING – Parker Keep – 7; Lang – 14; Jacob Christ – 2; Wyatt Curtis – 17; Miles Mudderman – 6; Jacob Dunbar – 8; Riley Larson – 2
ASHBY SCORING – Jaden Norby – 6; C. Norby – 11; Johnson – 15; Fossell – 9; Dakota Ecker – 3