Last basketball season, Goshen boys basketball head coach Michael Wohlford thought he had a squad that could compete for a Northern Lakes Conference title.
Then the Redhawks were hit with an 0-4 start to begin the year, and finished 7-16.
Looking back at that season, Wohlford thinks he projected his players one year ahead of where they should be.
"We were still a little young," he said. "We actually started two freshmen last year and two sophomores. This year those kids are a year older and I think you can't overstate what physically maturity and development can do for a kid."
This season Goshen, currently 7-1 and on a current six-game winning streak heading into this week, are playing like the team Wohlford thought he had. And it is those players, now one-year older from the 2021 season, that are leading charge.
The Redhawks did not lose a game in the month of December beating: LaVille, Elkhart, South Bend Saint Joseph, South Bend Clay, Northridge and East Noble.
At the nucleus of that success is Goshen's three star guards: juniors Quinn Bechtel, Deecon Hill and senior Drew Hogan.
The trio is averaging almost 40 combined points per game with Bechtel at 9.8, Hogan at 13.3 and Hill at a team-leading 15.8 points.
"They have gone through the ups and downs of the season and are finding ways to win," Wohlford said. "They can make the winning play when we need it. We are taking care of the ball a little bit better. Just really good leadership out of those guys and everybody else follows. "
Hogan, who has started every game since his second game as a freshman, currently sits seventh in school history at 968 points. Bechtel and Hill, both coaches sons, have used that basketball knowledge to provide different ways to score on the court.
"All three of them are over 40% from 3," Wohlford said. "Hill has made 29 3s in eight games. Bechtel can score inside and out. He made a game-winning 3 against Northridge. And Drew Hogan, he can get to the basket. He finishes really well for being 5-foot-9."
During Goshen's winning streak that has loomed large. And with three big upcoming NLC games — rivalry at Concord on Jan. 7, at Warsaw (a gym Goshen has never won in) on Jan. 14 and a possible NLC-title decider vs. NorthWood on Jan. 21 — the trio's scoring will have to continue.
"We don't talk about NLC over other games," Wohlford said. "We are just trying to get better and see what happens."
Hecklinski still going strong in final season
In 40 years of coaching, Mishawaka's Ron Hecklinski has endless stories to tell. But one of his favorites involves the McDonald's All-American game and yelling at Lebron James and Chris Paul.
James and Paul, future NBA Hall of Famers weren't playing hard enough defense......in an All-Star game. But for Hecklinski, that didn't matter.
"To me it was a regular game," Hecklinski. "We prepared, had walk-throughs and had stuff we were running."
Everybody, all the way up to Jay Bilas who was on the broadcast for the game was giving Hecklinski a bit of a hard time for that extra yelling. But that has always been who he is.
For 38 years as a head coach, that has always been Hecklinski's style. Competition is competition. Even into this year, Hecklinski's final season on the bench with Mishawaka, he has coached like himself until the very end.
The Cavemen are 3-2 this year, currently on a three-game winning streak after starting 0-2, and haven't played since Dec. 17.
Mishawaka's season started with two tough losses: a last-second shot against Culver Academy to beat it 38-37, and a 63-36 loss to Mishawaka Marian, a top-three ranked team in Class 3A.
Since then the Cavemen have rattled off wins against Elkhart Christian, Brandywine (Mich.) and Concord to begin NLC play, all of which by getting back to the principles of Hecklinski's coaching philosophy.
"Just trying to get better every day," he said. "We are just defending better. If you know anything about me or my coaching style, I like to play pressure defense. I like to pick up full court and I think early into the season that is a really tough thing to get across because you have to play hard on every play and you can’t take any play off whether it is offense or defense. Trying to build that stamina."
It also helps having a player like Arthur Jones, who leads the team in scoring with 14.7 points per game.
And as the games in Hecklinski's long coaching career continue to dwindle down, nothing about him is going to change.
"Every day is an hour and a half making the practice plan," he said. "Every day is watching film, whether it is game film or practice film. Every day is trying to evaluate our team and help them get better."
Elkhart going through NIC growing pains
In many of Elkhart's six losses this season, second-year head coach Kyle Sears felt his team was right there to snatch victory from defeat. But a few bad possessions, or a tough stretch of play flipped the game on its axis.
For example, "When we are at Valpo (Valparaiso) right before the break, we are down two heading into the last 50 seconds of the half, but we go in down eight because we give up a couple of 3s," Sears said.
The Lions ended up losing that game, its most-recent loss, 62-47. Elkhart hasn't won since its season-opening 51-41 victory over South Bend Washington. And it has been that same story, a couple of bad plays or possessions, that has defined its season.
"We are learning those tough situations that will definitely help us come down the stretch when you get ready for the postseason and those kind of things," Sears said.
The Lions (1-6, 1-3 NIC) have played the kind of opponents this year where a run of turnovers or bad defense will sink your ship. Along with Valparaiso, they have also lost to John Glenn, Goshen, South Bend Adams, Chesterton and Mishawaka Marian (Adams is the only team currently unranked in its class).
"I think its one of those that we had some inexperience at the varsity level," Sears said. "We have been adjusting and getting guys that experience at the varsity level and as they have gotten more comfortable, they are learning from that and unfortunately those are some growing pains they have to go through."
That starts with guys like junior Erick Nocentilli and senior Juan Carlos Romo, who each spent most of last year on junior varsity and are now finding out what it is like to play consistent varsity minutes. The Lions also added in Jerry Hodges, a transfer from NorthWood, who is still acclimating himself with new teammates and a new system.
So even through the growing pains, Sears has seen improvement in his team, despite the Lions' losing streak.
And with key Northern Indiana Conference games this week against South Bend Riley and Bremen, he knows the Lions need to grow up quickly before the season slips away, too.
"Like I said, I think it is just executing and closing the game out and playing four solid quarters, and not having those possessions that allow the game to slip away," Sears said. "I think that is part of the growing process, is learning how to close those quarters and games out and will really help us turn the corner."
Northern Indiana Conference standings
(Through Monday games)
John Glenn 9-0 (4-0), Penn 7-0 (3-0), SB Saint Joseph 6-2 (3-0), Mishawaka Marian 8-1 (2-0), SB Adams 4-5 (2-1), Bremen 4-2 (1-1), SB Washington 8-3 (2-2), Jimtown 4-5 (1-2), SB Riley 7-5 (1-3), Elkhart 1-6 (1-3), SB Clay 3-6 (0-4), New Prairie 2-6 (0-4)
Northern Lakes Conference standings
(Through Monday games)
NorthWood 10-1 (1-0), Goshen 7-1 (1-0), Warsaw 6-3 (1-0), Mishawaka 3-2 (1-0), Wawasee 4-6 (0-1), Concord 3-5 (0-1), Northridge 3-6 (0-1), Plymouth 2-7 (0-1)
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: HSBB Notebook: Goshen boys finish off perfect December record