Lake’s Connor Bowen drives past Otsego’s Jerome Griffin. The 6-foot junior leads the team in scoring (19.8) and assists (9.1), and averages 5.5 rebounds. The Flyers are 13-0 overall, 7-0 in the Northern Buckeye Conference.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
In the long-term picture, the Lake boys basketball team has been negatively impacted this season by having one boy too many enrolled at its high school — and one too few listed on its roster.
More on that later.
In the present — which is where fourth-year coach Ryan Bowen prefers his Flyers keep their focus — things are working out pretty well.
Lake’s 13-0 start is the best in school history, and the Flyers occupy first place in the Northern Buckeye Conference with a 7-0 mark.
The Flyers are ranked No. 4 in the Division II state poll, having bumped up from D-III this season.
“The greatest thing about this team is that the players have all accepted their roles, and they all get along great,” Bowen said. “The sky’s the limit for these guys. We try to stay humble and keep our noses to the grindstone.”
The team’s success is linked to a connection that dates back to when senior guard Cody Witt and junior standouts Connor Bowen (Ryan’s son) and Jared Rettig were in second and first grade, respectively.
Ryan Bowen, 40, a Lake graduate and former Flyer (1990-92), got his son started in basketball at the YMCA in Oregon and was joined by Rettig and Witt.
By the time Connor Bowen and Rettig were in third grade, they were playing organized ball at the East Toledo Family Center league on Ryan’s Northwest Ohio Bulldogs team.
The Bulldogs moved to a league at The Hoop in North Toledo, then to a Maumee travel league before the trio began playing at Lake Junior High.
“My style’s always been pretty fast, move the ball around as fast as possible and play full-court defense, and they’ve been doing it since fourth grade,” coach Bowen said. “So it’s just something they’ve adapted to.
“I’m not a big X-and-O guy. We run a read offense, and when you have Connor and Jared, they do a pretty good job with the reads. A lot of it is in their hands.”
Winning became commonplace early. From the ETFC league through 2011-12, when Connor Bowen and Rettig played on the Lake freshman team, they won league titles seven straight seasons.
That string of championships was broken last year at the varsity level. The Flyers finished 19-4 overall and a second-place 11-3 in the NBC behind champion Otsego.
This season, Connor Bowen, a 6-foot combination guard, has become one of the area’s most productive players. He leads Lake in scoring at 19.8 points per game, dishes out an impressive 9.1 assists, and adds 5.5 rebounds.
“When we were younger, we got to bond a lot,” Connor Bowen said. “We got the chemistry down that we needed to play varsity basketball. When you have the chemistry, everything else goes together.
“Ever since we were young, we’ve always fed off of each other’s energy. When that happens, the whole team feeds off it, and that’s great.”
Rettig, a 6-2 forward, has been the starting quarterback on the football team for three years. He carries his versatile athleticism over to the basketball court, averaging 16.8 points, a team-high 8.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists.
“Experience like that with your teammates is a great thing to have,” Rettig said. “It also makes each one of us more comfortable on the court knowing we all have each other’s backs.
“Sometimes the others know what one of us may do on the court before we actually do it because we’ve been playing together for so long. We realize when we are on the court, it becomes strictly business. We also know that you have to have fun playing the game as well. That’s what makes high school sports such a special thing.”
Witt, a 5-10 guard, contributes 9.1 points and 3.0 rebounds.
“We’ve played together since we’ve been young, whether it’s been baseball, basketball, or football,” Witt said. “That’s helped to create a chemistry, especially [among] us three. It’s that way whether we’re in the hall at school or on the basketball court.
“We trust each other, and our whole team is very unselfish, especially Connor. He does a great job of setting up all the shooters and setting up the offense. He’s a great player.”
Rounding out the starting lineup are 6-3 junior forward Todd Walters (6.8 points, 5.9 rebounds) and 6-0 sophomore guard Brandyn Neal (9.2 points, 5.0 rebounds).
The top sub has been 5-11 freshman guard Jacob Rettig (6.5 points, 2.0 rebounds), who is Jared’s brother.
Employing its up-tempo, press-and-run, drive-and-kick style, Lake is outscoring opponents by an average of 71.5 to 50.8 points per game. The Flyers are shooting 54 percent on 2-pointers, 37 percent on 3-pointers, and 68 percent from the foul line.
Their most crucial wins have been against Eastwood (52-49) and at preseason NBC favorite Rossford (67-65 in overtime). Lake also posted narrow wins against Bryan (67-64) and at Old Fort (68-65).
The Flyers have a key NBC clash today at Eastwood (9-4, 5-2). The Eagles’ two wins (61-57 and 61-60) over Lake last season cost the Flyers an NBC title.
Under coach Bowen, Lake has progressed each season. They were 12-9 in 2010-11, 17-6 in 2011-12 (NBC co-champion), and 19-4 a year ago. The 13 wins this season bring Bowen’s record to 61-19.
The 13-0 start surpasses the 1998-99 Lake team, which opened 12-0 under coach Jim Robinson. That squad finished 19-2, the best record in school history. Last year’s team matched the school mark for wins.
Come tournament time, things may become difficult for two reasons.
Lake’s official boys enrollment for grades 9 through 11 last fall stood at 213, which is the at the bottom of the enrollment range for Division II boys basketball for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
With one fewer boy enrolled, the Flyers would be at the top of the range for Division III. D-II enrollments range from 213 to 369.
“There’s a big difference, size-wise, from the top of Division II to the bottom,” coach Bowen said. “With us at the bottom, it is kind of a kick in the teeth. There’s some great teams in Division III too. That’s obvious."
As far as what’s missing, that is 6-foot-5 senior Jayce Vancena, a former starter who averaged more than 10 points and 10 rebounds last season.
Vancena opted not to play this season after signing a letter of intent to play baseball on scholarship at the University of Michigan. He was recruited by the Wolverines as a pitcher.
“It’s understandable,” coach Bowen said of Vancena’s decision. “Jayce got a baseball scholarship to a Division I program, and maybe being drafted is a possibility. I’m all for these kids and their futures.
“I would’ve loved to have had him come out, but there’s no hard feelings. I hope he goes as far as he possibly can in baseball. To be honest, he could’ve been the best big man in the league. His presence would’ve helped.”