METAMORA - Fans of boys basketball in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League may have done a double-take when they saw the preseason predictions.
Evergreen was the favorite?
No, it wasn't a misprint. In fact, the prediction that the Vikings would win the NWOAL title turned out to be correct as they tied Bryan for the top spot with a 7-1 mark.
Brock Bates, a 6-foot-9 senior, has averaged a double-double this season with averages of 16.1 points and 11.0 rebounds.
It was just the second boys basketball title in the school's 33 seasons in the NWOAL.
"Coach [Jerry] Keifer constantly reminded us what the expectations were, and how hard we needed to work," said the team's leading scorer, Chad Mossing. "But we also tried to keep things loose so the pressure didn't build up on us. It's been a fun ride."
The Vikings' "fun ride" has produced a 16-4 record, which Keifer said is
further proof that this team was up to the challenge.
Zac Oswald, a senior, is a two-year starter for the Vikings who averages 6.7 points per game.
"When I took this job, this was the worst job in Fulton County," said Keifer, who is finishing his 16th season at Evergreen. "Now people talk about our program when they talk about the better teams in the NWOAL - we may not be first, but people eventually get around to talking about us.
"We're trying to build some tradition and some pride, and I think you do that by turning over winning seasons and making nice tournament runs, and we've done that."
Evergreen coach Jerry Keifer is in his 16th season leading the Vikings, who are 16-4 this year and finished 7-1 in the NWOAL for only their second title in 33 years in the league.
This year the Vikings knew they weren't going to sneak up on opponents, but they still won their first seven NWOAL games to clinch a share of the crown for the first time since 1998. Only an outstanding shooting performance by Bryan last Friday denied Evergreen its first outright title.
"Before the season, it was on everybody's mind that we were going to be good," 6-foot-9 senior Brock Bates said. "It made us try a little harder. We knew we were supposed to be good, so I think we played a little better.
"I'm pretty sure everyone is good with their roles, and everyone handles them well."
Evergreen has become well-known for running the Princeton offense, which creates offensive opportunities for all five players - provided they are moving without the ball and reading what the defense does.
But the Vikings haven't shown much of that deliberate offense for one reason: Opponents very rarely play man-to-man defense against them.
"We've seen box-and-one [defenses] and we've seen triangle-and-two and a whole lot of zone," Keifer said. "I can only think of one or two teams that have played man to man against us. Everyone likes to complain about that offense, but no one has really seen it yet [this year].
"I think we've gotten pretty good at running against junk defenses, but you really can't run what you want to run against a junk defense."
The marquee names for the Vikings are Bates, who averages a double-double with 16.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, and Mossing, a 6-foot-3
junior whose 55 3-pointers help him average 16.4 points per contest.
"Everyone focuses on Chad Mossing and Brock Bates, but we've got six other guys who give us minutes on the varsity, and they're all very important to us," Keifer said.
The only senior on the roster besides Bates is Zac Oswald, who averages 6.7 points per game.
"Zac is a two-year starter, and he really brings energy," Keifer said. "He really sets the tone, running the lanes and giving us a lot of hustle points."
Lucas Pennington, a 6-5 sophomore, also provides scoring punch with his average of 8.2 points per game.
"A lot of people don't know that Lucas Pennington is averaging 10 points a game in league games, and there were a couple of league games where he led us in scoring," Keifer said. "Teams forget about him because you try to stop the big two [Bates and Mossing], and he's very productive."
A pair of juniors, twin brothers Jackson and Mason Langenderfer, combine to produce 2.3 points per game.
"I call them the 'Bash Brothers,'•" Keifer said. "They are the guys who get on the floor and do the dirty work.
"Jackson sets the tone for our zone, and I could sit back and watch him play defense all day because of how hard he plays. And Mason is just like Jackson."
Junior Ryan Salsbury and freshman Clayton Wielinski also see varsity minutes at guard, and both average 2.3 points per game.
"Salsbury is very quick and gets us a lot of steals," Keifer said. "And Wielinski is a freshman who is coming along. He's had some downs but he's had some ups, too."
Mossing said he and his teammates don't worry about who is scoring.
"I've always thought that [you do] whatever it takes to win," Mossing said. "If we're scoring 10 points a game, or I'm scoring two points a game - and we're winning - then it's all right. Winning makes it worth it.
"You can always help the team with things besides points, like rebounds or assists or steals. Whatever it takes to win."
Keifer said he hopes the team can use the loss at Bryan as motivation to make a long tournament run similar to the 2007 squad, which advanced to the Division III regionals.
"But sometimes it isn't about winning and losing," Keifer said. "Sometimes it's about getting along, coming to the gym and playing hard.
"If you can do those things, the winning and losing takes care of itself. Every day it's fun to come to the gym with these kids."
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