Resilient Pilots Excited for Upcoming Year
By SETH STASKEY
For the News-Register
HANNIBAL — When Mark Romick surveys his River basketball team the trait that jumps out at him first isn’t necessarily its experience, ability to shoot the ball or desire to guard.
Actually, it’s an intangible trait.
“I love these kids’ resiliency,” Romick said. “It’s a very resilient bunch. I think they showed it last year, they showed it in the summer and throughout the preseason.”
When you combine that trait along with the basketball skills and experience the Pilots possess, there’s a lot for Romick and company to be excited about this season.
“We return seven guys, but we’re dealing with some injuries,” Romick said. “But that resiliency will be a factor there, too. These kids are willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
Some of the injuries the Pilots are dealing with are carry-overs from the extended football season, which saw the Pilots play until Week 13 before falling in the regional semifinal.
“When you play 13 weeks of football, your body is going to be banged up, but we had everyone in the gym on the Wednesday after we lost and went on Friday and scrimmaged,” Romick said. “We pretty much traded our football shoes for sneakers.”
The Pilots are coming off a 14-8 campaign in which they bowed out, at home, in the opening round of the sectional tournament. While that was disappointing, in the bigger picture of dealing with all of the COVID-19 restrictions, schedule changes and issues that the 2020-21 season brought, Romick found it tough to be too upset.
“It was really a good experience because we all had to learn and adjust on the fly,” Romick said. “There were some weeks (last season) when we played four games and did some things you normally don’t do. But, our guys adapted well and I thought we improved as the season went on. We got all 22 (regular-season) games in, so I am tickled to death with that.”
Other than Chase Lawrence, who was a starter, and Conner Hunter, the Pilots return their entire cast from a season ago.
“Having seven of our top guys back is a great asset,” Romick explained. “This team has its goals in front of them and they have a great work ethic. I think this team is going to have a blue-collar mentality.”
Because of their returning experience, and resiliency, Romick elected to keep the schedule as is rather than adjusting some of the early games because of the football season.
“Our shooting probably won’t be where we’d like it early on, but we’ll have to play good defense and get after people on that end,” Romick said. “We have pretty adaptable kids, who will go from one (sport) to another.”
Though River will eventually have seven of its key players all in the rotation, the early portion of the season will bring some piece milling by the Pilots because of injuries to juniors Ty Long and Brody Lollathin.
Long (6-2) was the Pilots leading scorer a season ago at 14.1 points a night. Lollathin was the floor general and posted 12.1 points a night, which was second on the team.
“Ty will be out for a little while longer yet,” Romick said. “We don’t want to rush him, stick him out there too soon and he injures it again.”
Long has been out since a football scrimmage against Buckeye Local, while Lollathin was injured in the season finale, but Romick believes he’ll be back sooner.
“Brody actually came back and practiced once, but hasn’t practiced since after he injured it again, so he’s questionable,” Romick said. “Obviously, we’re missing a big chunk (of our scoring) without those guys.”
Sophomore Kabel Isaly (5-9) averaged eight points a game last season and will take on a much greater role this winter.
“Kabel received baptism by fire last year,” Romick said. “With a year now under his belt, his maturity and decision-making is the biggest thing. He can bring a lot of different things to the table.”
Junior River Thompson (6-3) averaged three points a game, but showed some flashes in spot duty. His minutes will increase, so Romick expects his production to go up, too.
Senior Kam Potts (6-3) chipped in almost four points a game last season and Romick believes he’s ready to “turn the corner.”
“Both River and Kim are much better than they were last year,” Romick said. “The year of growth and maturity has helped.”
Senior Brody Longwell (6-2) played solidly last season, netting 6.2 points a game. He, too, will take on a bigger role.
“Brody has gotten much better offensively,” Romick said.
Senior Austin Creamer (6-0) went for 3.3 points a game last season and will be looked upon for more scoring and continued defensive prowess.
Sophomore Finn Bowers (6-0) and freshman Peyton Blue (6-0) are also expected to see varsity minutes. Junior Wyatt Harlan (5-9) and sophomore Reed Willis (5-10) could work their way into the mix as well.
The balance of the Pilots roster includes: sophomores Wyatt Joos (5-11), Noah Ruble (6-2), Talan Harr (6-0), Brady Harlan (5-9), freshmen Lucas Dennis (5-9) and Gavin Todd (5-8).
“My biggest concern about this team is just the time factor (in terms of preparation),” Romick said. “It’s always the case and it’s a good problem to have because you’re getting some good, successful athletes out of football. We know early on we’re going to struggle some and our conditioning will be a factor, but I’d be a lot more concerned if we were a young team. The thing about basketball is it’s not a sprint. It’s an endurance race.”
The Pilots will line up against a very similar slate that they played last season. They’ll take part in a holiday tournament at Toronto and meet McDonald. Malvern and Steubenville will return trips to Hannibal this winter.
“It’s a pretty competitive schedule, and I believe we’ll be ready,” Romick said. “McDonald is a high-level Division IV team and Malvern is one of the best teams in our district. We play a lot of good teams.”
Romick is assisted by Kris Pfalzgraf, Dan Lollathin and Brandon Grimes.