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Lady Truckers enjoy playing underdog

By JAKE FURR Reflector Sports Editor jakefurr@norwalkreflector.com • Jul 15, 2017 at 12:30 PM

In this week’s Saturday Conversation, I sat down with Norwalk girls’ basketball coach Brock Manlet.

I asked him about how the Lady Truckers’ summer has gone as well as his thoughts on the historic 2016-17 now that he has finally had some time to reflect and really think about what they were able to accomplish. He also gave me a look at what is in story for the Lady Truckers next season and beyond.

Lets get to it. Here is this week’s Saturday Conversation.

Jake Furr: So what has been going on this summer? It is kind of a busy time for basketball coaches and players.

Brock Manlet: We like to get all of our playing stuff done in June. We held our summer league with JV and varsity, had a shootout at Ashland University then went to Louisville for our team camp. We had a very busy June so right now we are conditioning and lifting with whoever is left that is not playing another sport. We stay very busy.

JF: You guys went to the University of Louisville I would imagine?

BM: Oh yeah.

JF: That has to be an amazing experience for those girls to be able to go to a Division I college and kind of take in that atmosphere.

BM: It was a lot of fun. I love to go away to other state for our team camps because that gives us a chance to play teams from all over the country. We ran into a lot of really good teams and ironically, Willard was down there with us. So our JV ended up playing them so we traveled five hours to play Willard. (Laughs) But these camps are always fun. We played teams from Indiana and North Carolina. You see so many different styles of play and it only helps us when we come back here. The girls had a lot of fun.

JF: What were some impressive things you saw from your players that you may not have expected to see?

BM: With our returners, I knew what they could do so I saw them really fill in the roles that we knew they would and they did a great job. We also had some girls really step it up. Macy Horner and Liv Ward really impressed me and the coaching staff. They came from the JV level last year and they have done an awesome job of filling in so far this summer. We have a few injuries to our upperclassmen, so it was great to see those youngsters step up. We have a freshman come up with us and a few girls who played on the freshman team last year who got some varsity time this summer. We use the summer to give everyone a look who we think can play at the varsity level. We saw some very good things and we played very well for not being at full strength. For the summer, we went 12-5 overall and we played some very good teams. Most of our losses came in that team camp and there were some insanely good teams there. We are very encouraged because we are going to have to replace those five seniors that were lost, and I think our depth has been our strength the last few years so hopefully we can keep that success going.

JF: Now that you have had four months to really think about what you guys did this year, I know I asked you right after the game and it was difficult to come up with words for what you guys really accomplished, what do you think about the history you made this year?

BM: The longer it goes on, the more impressed I am with what we did. That was one of the toughest sectional tournaments to go through in this area. To beat the team that we did, things just really fell into place. You always hear about destiny and how things are supposed to happen and looking back on it, I just fell like that was our destiny. It really was our year to do that. I still watch those films. Just the other day, I watched two of those films from our tournament run and it still gets my heart pumping. I am very impressed to go through the top three seeds in our district was just amazing. I still kick myself thinking about that Norton game because I wish we were completely healthy. I think it would have been a different outcome. But to accomplish our first district championship, it is going to be hard to top that. 

JF: When you do watch those tapes back and especially that Bellevue game and you see Jiselle (Thomas) go down, I know how I felt at that moment, but now that you think back on it, how did that make you feel especially after watching the tapes?

BM: The first think I was just concerned for her. I didn’t want her to have broken anything, but when I rewatch it and she gets hurt and we go down by six, I remember thinking at that moment that I just wanted us to hold on so bad. I thought our kids were devastated for Jiselle. I was hoping our mentality would not change. I called a timeout and regrouped. It may have only been a 6-point game, but in the moment it really felt like we were down 15-20 points without your leading scorer. Our kids buckled down, got a big basket after the timeout that settled us down and then defensively, we were the best we had been all year long. To end the game on a 9-1 run when we needed it the most, it said a lot about the character of our kids.

JF: I was part of the first district championship team at Plymouth during my sophomore year and the next year we lost in the first game of the sectional tournament as the No. 1 seed. How do you plan on keeping this team grounded and making sure that kind of a hangover doesn’t happen this year?

BM: I think it is actually going to be easy for us to stay grounded because we have a big perception that with Jiselle graduating, no one thinks we have much coming back. We have taken the underdog approach. Whether it is true or not that we actually are the underdog, we have sold that to our kids. We believe people are thinking they have a chance to beat us and we just have to embrace that. We have to work very hard and go out and play like we have nothing to lose. We will play our style of basketball and see what happens. I have always felt more comfortable in that underdog role than on the top where people are targeting you. It has helped in the summer. I don’t feel like our kids are feeling any kind of pressure that they need to repeat what we did; I see a lot of kids who are excited to fill those roles that were left by the seniors that moved on. They have been in the system for years and they know what to expect at the varsity level. We will hang our hats on that style of basketball.

JF: Looking at your system, it kind of speaks for itself at the moment with all of the success you guys have enjoyed over the past five or so years. How have you been able to do that? It is not an easy thing to really build a program.

BM: It is a style I adopted when I was a JV coach at Bellevue. I feel pressure all of the time and making teams go against constant pressure, if you have the athletes to do it, creates the type of game we want. We are not the best half-court team and we never will be and I don’t see many girls teams who are good half-court teams. One thing we do lack is size, but we make up for it with speed so we have to tailor our system after what our kids athletic ability is and if we can get out and run, that is what we are made to do. When we do that, we are successful. When we try to play half court, that is where we struggle. If you were to ask our younger kids now what to expect when they get to the varsity level, they all know. I tell them all of the time, don’t worry about scoring. Worry about playing defense and getting rebounds. All of the intangible stuff is what they should focus on and the offense will come from there. We have been blessed with some great athletes who can run up and down the floor. I had an opposing coach tell me in the summer that they wished they could have played defense like we did at the end of the season. I told him that we were blessed with the athletes that made us able to do that. I don’t ever want to be a half-court team. I love coaching games where I do not have to call an offensive set. That is just the style I like.

JF: When I think back about the entire season and all of the game I covered, the one that really stuck out was that game over at Ontario at the end of the year. I remember sitting there and thinking, “Who is this team and what happened to it?” It was just a completely different team. I don’t know if you guys changed something, but that defensive mentality just switched completely. What was it about that game?

BM: I agree. We were a good team because we had great athletes, but we never played to our ability especially defensively until that game. That fueled our tournament run. I still do not know what it was. Maybe it was a sense of urgency from our seniors who felt their time was coming to an end and they didn’t want it to end so soon. Ontario is a team that always plays us tough and when they played us here, they did what they wanted to do to us. Then we wanted to avenge that loss, but I do not know. People ask me all of the time what changed in us and I cannot pinpoint one thing. There was just a different feeling with the girls and they were just locked in. Sometimes in coaching, you wonder if they are always hearing what you say and I would say at that point and maybe even a couple games before that, they were locked in and it really did fuel our tournament run.

JF: And just to finish up, what can we expect from the Norwalk Lady Truckers next season and five years down the road?

BM: Next year, I think we are going to be very competitive. A lot of going to depend on how healthy we are, but we have a great core of kids who are coming back from that historic team and we are mixing in some very talented young players from that JV team. They are kids who are more than capable of holding their own at the varsity level. I expect we will be able to compete for a championship. I think the girls believe in that too, but there is a different in believing it and doing it on the floor. I like this group and I know we are going to work hard and make things happen. Five year from now, who knows, but we have great coaches at the middle school and JV level who are building the girls to be prepared for varsity basketball. Right now, we are in the best place we ever have been as far as the entire program being on the same page. We have very good numbers with a lot of kids who want to play basketball. Our middle school kids are playing in the summer as well as our high school kids. So everyone is playing and it just depends on how well they develop. Our style won’t change much. What you saw the past couple of years is what you will continue to see. I feel like we built our program and hopefully we can continue our success.

 

Sports Editor Jake Furr is sitting down with a player or a coach every week for a Saturday Conversation. If you have a suggestion to who he should sit down with next, email him at jakefurr@norwalkreflector.com or tweet at him at @JakeFurr11.

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