From left, Chris Keesey, Eric Watts, Aaron Redd and Brett McClure are enjoying success as seniors at Swanton.
It was not too long ago when winning basketball games seemed almost certain for teams taking on Swanton.
But not anymore.
The Bulldogs, losers 20 times in 22 games two seasons ago, are no longer pushovers on a basketball court. In only his second season as Swanton's head coach, Shane Ash has the Bulldogs experiencing one of their best starts in recent history.
Swanton is 7-1, 2-1 in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League, heading into a non-league game against North Central tomorrow night.
“I credit a lot of what has happened to the kids,” Ash said. “They now understand what it takes to win.”
There were signs leading up to this season that Ash was guiding the Bulldogs in the right direction. They owned a 3-5 record at this point a year ago, which put them one win ahead of their pace the year before.
The Bulldogs went on to finish with a winning record (12-11), which included two tournament wins. Knocking off state-ranked Liberty-Benton in the sectional finals highlighted the memorable turnaround in which Swanton improved its win total from one season to the next by 10 games.
The shocking defeat of Liberty-Benton also represented the point when the Bulldogs finally realized they had as much of a chance at victory as their opponents.
“Now they expect to win every time they step on the floor,” Ash said.
But it wasn't always that way for the Bulldogs.
Aaron Redd, a 6-2 senior forward, was on the Swanton team that won only twice two seasons ago. Redd, averaging a team-leading 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, hasn't completely put that season in the past.
“It was tough,” said Redd of his first season on the varsity. “It's a lot more fun now that we're winning. We've found it within ourselves to go out and win.
“We either didn't have the talent or didn't have the intensity to win. We always wanted to win, but we were a young team.”
This year's team includes four returning lettermen, including three former starters.
Chris Keesey, a 6-3 senior, was also exposed to the Bulldogs' suffering a couple years ago when he spent half his sophomore year on the varsity team.
Keesey, who averages a team-leading 17 points a game, along with 6-3 senior Eric Watts, believes this year's team has benefited from its past.
“Last year it was really a big shock when we won; this year we know what winning should be like,” Keesey said. “We go out to practice every day and go really hard. This year we feel good about ourselves and what we're doing.”
Furthermore, Keesey feels good about having Ash as the head coach. Besides working on the team's psyche, Keesey said Ash helped the Bulldogs understand how important it is to do “the little things” in order to be successful.
“After we won our first game, we realized what coach was telling us worked,” Keesey said. “We realize the importance of things like blocking) out and running the floor hard.”
Other than a loss to Montpelier in their third game of the season, the Bulldogs have played up to their expectations.
“We should really be 8-0,” Keesey said. “I just think we went in there and were overconfident. But we realize that we can be beaten if we don't do the little things.”
The Bulldogs' fast start may have taken some by surprise, but not their second-year coach.
“These kids have worked as hard as anyone,” Ash said. “Basically, every night someone has been stepping up for us. We've had an all-around effort from everyone.”
Nevertheless, the Bulldogs' newfound confidence doesn't have them predicting any league titles.
At least not yet.
“It's going to be really tough to win league,” Keesey said.
“It's probably going to come down to the last couple of games in league to decide the league champion.”
Redd likes their chances of winning a league title.
“If we keep playing like we have been playing, we'll be right in it,” Redd said.