Ronan Chiefs basketball: ‘There’s no quit in us’
Despite a seemingly insurmountable list of injuries and more than their fair share of adversity, the Ronan Chiefs never stopped fighting and are in the midst of a comeback winning streak.
Head coach Steve Woll said the team lost seven seniors to graduation last year and started the season with a 3-3 record before winter break. Coming off the break, the ballers lost another three straight games.
The team’s 3-6 losing record did nothing but add insult to their already long list of injuries.
Senior Jalen Bell just recently was cleared by his doctor to start playing again after dislocating his shoulder in a scrimmage several months ago.
“I’m excited,” Bell said. “I haven’t been on the court all year, and I just want to be out there with my team and finish out the year.”
Seniors Carston Baertsch and Dallas Jore were sidelined for some time with ankle injuries, while sophomore Kollin Wroblewski went down with a knee injury.
Several players came down with the flu mid-season.
“Every team goes through things like that; it just seems like we got it all at once,” Woll said.
In addition, the Chiefs were picked last in the conference in a pre-season coach’s poll, and three teams in the conference are currently ranked in the top 10 at the state level. Even so, Woll told his team, “It doesn’t matter where they pick us because you still have to play the game” — a philosophy the Chiefs took to heart.
Senior Zachary Wagner said the team had a “big family meeting” in the locker room after winter break and decided, among other things, that the season was from over.
“Thirty-two-minutes of hell,” Wagner said, referring to the team’s new court strategy. “We decided we were going to press the entire game, — full court pressure — and we’re on a two-game winning streak, so it’s going really well.”
Wagner said the team’s chemistry is a major strength this year. Before the season officially started, the Chiefs’ starting six played 30 to 40 games together during the summer and became “a family of brothers.”
“We do it for each other, and we want to bring a basketball tradition back to Ronan, but mainly we just do it for each other,” Wagner said. “People get down, but we’re always there to bring them back up. We want to lead by example.”
Woll said if there was a silver lining to the adversity his team has dealt with this year, it would be that his younger players have gotten quite a bit of experience at the varsity level.
“It’s going to be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I can put a JV guy in there without batting an eye and know that he’ll do well, so that’s the bright side.”
Jore echoed this sentiment and said the amount of time given to younger players is going to be a factor come tournament-time.
“We just kept fighting, and when a guy went down, we just expected someone else to step up,” Jore said. “(The injuries and sickness) have really affected us, as you can tell from our record, but we keep fighting as a team, and (giving the younger guys time) is going to give us so much more depth ... That will be good for us because all of our backup players got more minutes.”
This being Wagner and Jore’s senior year, they will never step into a Ronan Chiefs uniform again once the final buzzer sounds. Both athletes can find no better reason to play as hard as possible for the remainder of the season.
“(Being a senior) is a great thing because I like being the older guy and being the court general, really guiding the younger guys and all, but then again, this could be the last time I ever wear a jersey,” Jore said. “Going through two-a-days was crazy because it was the last two-a-days I’ll ever have as a Ronan Chief, so it’s awesome, but a sad feeling at the same time.”
Wagner said ever since transferring to Ronan his Sophomore year, he’s fallen in love with Ronan and the basketball team. He doesn’t want to graduate or stop playing basketball for Ronan.
“Oh man, (thinking about having to leave the team) is not even close to being a happy feeling. It’s really disappointing, actually ... I’m just a typical high school kid who loves his high school team,” he explained.
On a positive note, both the players and their coach understand that it’s not over until the fat lady sings, and she sings after the state tournament.
Last year, Ronan entered the tournament ranked fourth and took down the No. 1 team in four overtimes.
“Anything is possible,” Woll said. “I tell them to focus on getting to divisionals, because if you get there, anything can happen.
“I believe that and the kids believe that. It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.”
The Chiefs lost two hard-fought games over the weekend, falling to Hamilton by a score of 57-55 after coming back from an 18-point deficit. Tim Woll and Carston Baertsch combined for 28 points while the Chiefs shot 47 percent from the field and 67 percent from the foul line.
Zachary Wagner scored 17 points in a 41-51 loss to Loyola, shooting 54 percent from the field while the team earned 30 rebounds.