Wauseon coach Chad Burt is pleasantly surprised about the Indians’ fast start, which has them sitting among the top teams in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League.
In his mind, there’s been one philosophical explanation for their winning ways.
“We really pride ourselves on playing defense,” he said.
Wauseon (9-3) has held its opponents to 40 points per game, with only two scoring more than 50.
A tough-minded approach to defense, primarily man-to-man, has served as the backbone of the good start.
“We’re not the offensive juggernaut that will outscore teams by 15-20 points a game,” said Burt, Wauseon’s sixth-year coach. “Playing in close games, making free throws, rebounding, and turnovers are going to be critical, and that’s what we’ll have to continue to focus on.”
That doesn’t mean the Indians, who shared the league title with Archbold last season, don’t have the ability to put the ball in the basket.
The Indians are averaging more than 50 points a contest with Noah Castle (16.0 points) and Corry Byers (11.4) leading the way.
Castle, a 6-foot-5 junior, is delivering the kind of statisticals expected from a returning All-NWOAL performer. Besides leading the Indians in scoring, he averages a team-best 8.9 boards per game.
“We work our offense inside through him,” Burt said. “We want to get Noah as many touches as we can. Our perimeter guys understand the more touches he gets, it opens up their games.”
Castle, a secondary option last year behind league player of the year Collin Bzovi, has accepted the greater demands that come with being the No. 1 scoring option.
“I’m a lot more improved from last year,” Castle said. “I’ve got a lot physically stronger, so I’m able to take the beating that the NWOAL gives out, and I think, as a team we’ve gotten stronger.”
Castle thinks the Indians have the makeup to contend for another league title.
“There’s a lot of pressure, but I think when you win the league, you put that on yourself for the next year,” Castle said. “I think we all knew coming in what we needed to do, and we’re on the right path to fulfilling it.”
Wauseon, which is coming off a 47-39 nonleague defeat to Defiance, had been riding a four-game win streak, its second of the season. The Indians will look to avoid their first losing streak when they face Delta (9-1, 2-0) in a key NWOAL matchup on Saturday.
Byers, a 6-foot senior, has been perhaps the biggest surprise. He was a backup behind Bzovi a year ago, averaging 2.3 points and 1.4 rebounds in limited minutes.
However, Byers, who pumped in a career-high 30 points in a 53-49 victory over Liberty Center last Friday, has emerged as a scoring threat.
More significantly, the first-year starter has become a team leader for the Indians.
“It’s just confidence,” Burt said, regarding Byers’ rise. “He started the year unsure of his role, but he started shooting the ball well early, and that opened up his whole game.”
Byers is shooting 47 percent (14 of 30) from 3-point range and 84 percent (27 of 32) from the foul line. Recognizing the opportunity to see more playing time, Byers said he put in plenty of work during the summer on all aspects of his game. He averages 2.6 assists and a team-best 1.3 steals.
The Indians have lost only to Defiance, Napoleon, and Archbold. Wauseon’s season-opening 36-34 loss to Archbold was recognized as a nonleague contest and took place when Byers was still finding his way as a starter.
As the season progresses, Wauseon steadily reaps the benefits.
“Last year I was more of a practice dummy trying to get everybody else prepared for the games,” Byers said. “I stepped up if I had to. This year, I take my role as a scorer if I have to. If the players are relying on me to score if nobody else is stepping up and I need to, then I will.”
Yet the Indians have relied on 5-11 junior point guard Zac Robinson to keep things steady. Averaging 6.8 points and 3.0 assists, Robinson’s numbers don’t quite detail his importance for a team that looks to surpass last season’s win total of 13.
Robinson, a second-year starter, is a leader who Burt has full confidence in running the show.
“He’s really matured from a mental standpoint,” Burt said. “He’s your stereotypical coach on the floor.”
Robinson is also not looking to shy away from the pressure of trying to compete for another NWOAL championship.
“It is a lot of pressure to repeat as league champions, but we've really worked hard as a team, and I think we can continue with those expectations and try to have a repeat,” Robinson said.