FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind. — Centerville fans have been waiting, most of them patiently, for this basketball season. The 2022-23 boys’ basketball season will be the one.
The one that erases all the heartache from a winless 2021-22.
The one that puts an end to a 24-game losing streak dating back to 2020-21.
The one that finally gives the Bulldogs a winning record for the first time since 2016-17.
Why? Because those kids everyone has been talking about for the last three years or so — you know, the ones who didn’t lose a single game throughout their entire middle school careers — are finally in high school.
Shea Hollendonner, Ethan Vecera and Landyn Keiser headline this year’s freshman class of Bulldogs as the only three on the varsity roster. They’re coming off an eight-grade season in which they won the Indiana middle school state championship.
You could say these kids know how to win, something Centerville’s high school team has desperately needed lately.
“I think the freshmen do bring that winning mentality to our program,” head coach Kodi Smith said. “We’ve just got to figure out how to put it together. We’re taking steps in the right direction.”
But wait, coach. Those kids — the ones who never lost in middle school — are here now. They’re playing and significantly contributing for the varsity team. Doesn’t that mean everything is already figured out?
The short answer is no. The Bulldogs lost their first three games of the season, extending their losing streak to 27 games. Yes, these freshmen are talented, but they’re still freshmen. Success comes with experience, something they have all of three games worth at the varsity level.
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Are they used to losing? No, obviously, but they aren’t naïve enough to believe they’d turn a winless team into an undefeated team in just one year.
“I knew it was going to be rough to start, but we’re getting it figured out. We’re going to come back stronger each game,” said Hollendonner, the team’s leading scorer. “We definitely don’t want to go winless again. Every day, we’re locked in, getting better and working hard.”
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Believe that. If all you see is the scoreboard, believe that this team is improving, and the next win is bound to come sooner rather than later.
Take Centerville’s latest loss for example. The Bulldogs fell on the road at Northeastern 57-42 Thursday. That may have been the outcome people expected going into the game, but it sure wasn’t after the first half. Centerville led the Knights 11-4 after the first quarter and 28-23 at halftime. That’s the same Northeastern team that beat the Bulldogs 69-15 a year ago and hasn’t lost a Tri-Eastern Conference game in its last 19 tries, and hasn’t-won-since-two-Februaries-ago Centerville led at the half.
“I was just trying to stay composed and think about what we needed to do to get the job done, and I hope our kids were thinking about the same thing,” Smith said. “It was a different scenario for us, but it’s good for our kids now that they’ve seen this type of game and this environment. Hopefully, we can climb the ladder and just keep getting better regardless of the result.”
Smith said his team’s walkthrough leading up to that game was the best he’s ever seen and he “had a feeling” they’d be able to compete come game time.
Northeastern head coach Brent Ross commended Smith and his players, and he compared the first half of Thursday’s game to this past football season’s Northeastern-Centerville matchup. Everyone thought the Bulldogs would “destroy” the Knights last fall, but the opposite happened.
“It’s such a rivalry, you can throw the records out the window when we play each other,” Ross said. “I think (Smith) is doing a good job. They were ready tonight. They played as well as they could play. Those guys want to make a statement, and they did … It could have been the biggest story of the year. If we lose the game, it’s the biggest story of the year.”
Smith doesn’t get caught up in the wins and losses as much as you might think. He’s big on progress, something his team is making plenty of despite the record. While the Bulldogs still make mistakes, which Smith isn’t shy about pointing out, they are another year more experienced and another year more mature, and fans should not expect another zero in the win column when the season’s done.
“I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be disappointed if we went 0-22 again this season. I think we’re a team that’s more capable than that,” Smith said. “However, we’ve got to keep our focus on the little things and getting better every day. We can’t think about (winning), or we’ll never get it done.”
Although their team hasn’t exactly set the world on fire to start the schedule, Centerville fans’ preseason excitement is warranted. The freshmen are still good, and they’re going to continue to improve until they reach their goal of making it to another state championship.
“We want to be the best class to ever come through here,” Hollendonner said. “That’s our goal.”
This article originally appeared on Richmond Palladium-Item: Centerville boys basketball hoping freshmen can turn program around