Saugatuck, Fennville prepare for boys’ basketball season
By Jason Wesseldyk
Brian Ward is quite familiar with the Saugatuck boys’ basketball program, having served as JV coach for the past five seasons.
That familiarity will come in handy as he has been named as the new coach of the Indians’ varsity squad.
Ward replaces former coach Andy Diaz, who resigned the post due to family reasons.
Saugatuck athletic director Bill Dunn praised Ward’s hiring.
“We’re excited to start the next chapter of Saugatuck basketball under the guidance of Coach Ward,” Dunn said. “We look forward to the passion and energy he will bring to the program.”
Like Ward, most of Saugatuck’s players will be new to the varsity level when it comes to basketball.
Only two players return from last season’s squad that posted an 8-13 record.
Given that, Ward knows there are bound to be some growing pains.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have never experienced varsity basketball and the program is experiencing a transition at head coach,” said Ward, a 2012 Hope College graduate who has also served as varsity boys’ golf coach at Saugatuck since 2016. “With only two returning players, there’s going to be a steep learning curve for a lot of our guys. It’s going to be an adjustment period for us as a team, for sure.
“Our goal for the season will be laying a foundation that will allow us to be successful towards the end of the season and into the years to come.”
The team’s two returning players will be expected to provide leadership during that adjustment period.
Senior Brad Dunn will handle the point guard duties, while classmate Cooper Myers will lead the post play from his center position.
Newcomers who could make an impact for the Indians include senior forward Mateo Andreazza—an exchange student from Italy—along with junior forward Wyatt Larsen and sophomore center Tom Beckman.
“We’re really hoping defense will be a strength of ours this year, as well as our ability to push the ball in transition,” Ward said. “But seeing as how we have a lot of new guys on the team, we will have to wait and see how we stack up against some teams that are much more experienced.”
Among those more experienced teams are Coloma and Fennville, which Ward expects to be at the top of the SAC standings.
“We’re hoping to battle for that third spot and hopefully show up and hang in there with those two this year.”
The senior guard tandem of Jace Cossey and Matthew Sanchez were key cogs in a Fennville squad that went 15-6 overall and 8-2 in league play a season ago.
Fennville coach Joe Rodriguez anticipates the pair will be relied on even more this season.
“Cossey and Sanchez started every game last season and I expect to see big strides this year in their leadership roles,” Rodriquez said. “Both of them can handle (the ball) extremely well and have the ability to score and defend. I anticipate them to complement each other and feed off each other’s energy.”
Senior center Teegan Lemmons joins Cossey and Sanchez as a returning player, as do senior forwards Naun Velasquez and Austin Scovill. Junior guard/forward Jordan Pena also played at the varsity level last season, although a knee injury suffered during the football season is expected to sideline him until sometime in January.
The rest of the roster will be comprised of newcomers to the varsity level, such as sophomore guard Brody Peterson and senior forward Luke Aguilar.
“A lot of question marks heading into the season,” said Rodriguez, who carries a career record of 101-30 into the season. “In many ways, we have a traditional Fennville team: strong guards and not a lot of height in the middle.
“Our experienced backcourt will be surrounded by many guys getting their first taste of varsity basketball. I really like the pieces we have in place, but it could take some time to fit them all together.”
Still, Rodriquez likes what he’s seen from his squad in practice thus far.
“Early on, we’ve made tremendous progress and I’m looking forward to continuing to get better each day,” he said. “ We have a lot of smart players who have been catching on quickly.
“I believe our schedule may be one of the toughest in recent memories, so our guys will need to attack each day with confidence in order to be ready for the big stage when their number is called.”
If those young players are able to adjust to the varsity level, then Rodriquez believes Fennville has a chance to be in the mix for the top spot in the conference.
“The league offers a little bit of a mystery this year,” he said. “I think we all may be in the same boat. There are some really good individual players out there, but we also lost some valuable role players to graduation. At full strength, we should compete for a conference title.”