Strong investment in returnees could pay big dividends for this year’s Pacer team

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Returning four starters from last year’s co-ORVC champions, Switzerland County varsity basketball coach Brian Bowen sees a lot of potential in the 2008-2009 version of his squad – but he’s not allowing his troops to take anything for granted.

“We are committed to getting better each and everyday,” Coach Bowen said. “That’s what we are working to do. If we get better each day, then we should be where we want to be when it comes to tournament time.”

Last year’s 13-8 team came up short when it entered tournament play, but with the Pacers returning the bulk of their scoring, it could be an outstanding year in Switzerland County.

The Pacers kick off this season on Tuesday night with a home game against Madison Shawe. The junior varsity game gets underway at 6 p.m.

This year’s team is led by a quartet of starters; and that group is headed by seniors Kyle Green and Mark Sharp – both coming off All Conference junior seasons. Junior Brennan Bragg and senior Clay Meyer also return to man the frontline, and a solid core of returnees helps fuel optimism.

When opposing teams take the court against Switzerland County, one thing they will notice is the size of the Pacer squad. That size is considered a strength for the Pacer coach, but it’s also something that he is working with his team on to get even better.

“I think definitely for us, size is going to be a strength,” Brian Bowen said. “We need to make sure that we own the paint, and inside scoring and rebounding are going to be key for us because of that size.”

Coach Bowen thinks that the abundance of size will affect how the Pacers defend.

“We need to stay in front of the ball and work hard and work on defensive positioning,” Coach Bowen said. “Because of our size, defensive positioning is a big key for us. That’s going to be a big focus as we work to get better.”

With all but two of this year’s varsity having seen playing time at the varsity level last year, the depth of the team should be a positive early in the season. As he looks at his roster, the Pacer mentor points to two seniors who will be squarely in the bull’s eye for opposing teams – Kyle Green and Mark Sharp.

“Kyle’s a two-year starter and has lettered three times for us,” Brian Bowen said. “Kyle has done a lot for our program – not just our team, but our entire program. When you bring a guy back who can put the ball in the basket like he can, that’s a big advantage.”

But as Kyle Green moves from inside to outside to exploit matchups, Coach Bowen leaves no doubt that the Pacer offense runs squarely through his senior point guard.

“It’s a huge advantage to us to return a two year starter at the point position with Mark,” the coach said of Mark Sharp. “I think it puts you ahead of the game. He controls the tempo and he knows what we want to do on the floor, and I think that makes things much easier.”

Last year, Kyle Green averaged 16.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game; while Mark Sharp average 9.8 points and 5.1 assists per contest.

As the opposition looks to slow down the Pacer duo, the importance of the inside play of Brennan Bragg and Clay Meyer really comes to the forefront.

“It’s funny because in some ways Brennan and Clay are very similar, but they also do different things very well,” the coach said.

Brennan Bragg comes off of a sophomore campaign where he ranked among the conference leaders in field goal percentage and rebounding. His coach likes the effort that he has put in during the summer.

“Brennan has improved offensively, and he really has the ability to put it in the basket, but we have to get him the ball,” Coach Bowen said. “His scoring will create some real problems for teams that we play.”

Clay Meyer, fully recovered from a broken ankle that ended his junior season early last year, is coming off of an outstanding fall sports season that saw him win the individual championship of the Bedford cross country regional.

“Clay is our defensive stopper,” Brian Bowen said. “We look for him to rebound and play good defense, just like he did last year, and he’s also going to score for us when he has the opportunity.”

The varsity also features two other seniors in Kameron Pavy and Justin Reagan.

“We’re looking for big things off of the bench from Justin and Kameron,” the coach said. “They both understand their roles and are willing to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful. We’re counting on their senior leadership.”

Another player being looked to for having an outstanding season is junior Travis Tackett, who came up to full-time varsity service at the end of last year, and played a key role down the stretch and during the tournament.

“Travis is a guy with a lot of upside, we are excited about his potential,” Coach Bowen said. “He’s got to concentrate on the little things. I think that in many ways the game comes so easy to him that at times he forgets about the little things that we’re looking for. He’s going to be very important for us.”

Rounding out the varsity unit is a trio of junior guards – Noah Hughes, Josh Hon, and Alec McAlpine.

“Hon, Hughes, and McAlpine are all in a fight for backup minutes at the guard spot,” Brian Bowen said. “I think any of those three guys we will be comfortable with coming off of the bench. All three have great potential this year and next, it will just depend on how we feel about matchups on any given night.”

When he looks at this year’s conference race, Coach Bowen said that there’s a lot of uncertainty in many ORVC camps – and that should make for an interesting conference season.

“Jac-Cen-Del is going to be good again this year, and there’s a lot of new faces around the conference that will make things interesting,” Brian Bowen said. “Rising Sun has three or four starters back and should be good; and South Ripley has some kids back. I don’t think we’re going to overlook anybody.”

One interesting set of games this year will be with Southwestern, when the Rebels are coached by B.J. McAlister – one of the outstanding players in Switzerland County history.

“Southwestern really hurt us last year with Tanner Mahoney,” Coach Bowen said. “We won both games, but Mahoney hurt us and he will be one of the top players in the league. I think B.J. is going to bring a lot of energy to their team.”

The Rebels come to Switzerland County on Saturday, November 29th; and the Pacers travel to Hanover on Friday, January 16th.

A quirk in this year’s schedule means that Switzerland County will only have eight home games, as the Pacers lost two opponents off of their schedule and picked up a tournament.

Coach Bowen said that games with Scottsburg and with Southwestern of Shelby County are not on this year’s slate; replaced by Switzerland County’s participation in a tournament being held on January 2nd-3rd in Union County.

That will mean back-to-back tournaments for the Pacers, as they will then move into the annual Rivertown Classic tournament at South Dearborn on January 8th and 10th.

Following the Rivertown Classic, Switzerland County doesn’t get much home cooking for most of January; as they play four of five games on the road, with the only home contest coming on Friday, January 23rd with Rising Sun.

If there is a critical portion of the schedule, it comes at the end, when the Pacers make their tournament push by finishing with three teams that could be three of the toughest teams they’ll face.

Home games with two-time Sectional champion Lawrenceburg (February 12th) and conference nemesis Jac-Cen-Del (February 20th) will precede a trip to Madison for the regular season finale.

“Lawrenceburg will be good, but they lost one of their high scorers,” the Pacer coach said. “But they still have some scorers so they’ll be dangerous.”

The coach also thinks that South Dearborn will be better with its two leading scorers returning; while Madison will have to fill the void left when high-scoring Logan Jones graduated.

Another interesting game comes early in the schedule, when the Pacers travel to Jennings County on Saturday, December 6th. The Panthers are now coached by Scott Holdsworth, former Pacer coach who was most recently at South Ripley.

So with a season ahead filled with challenges and opportunities, Coach Brian Bowen is anxious to get the season underway. He’s also excited about how the Pacer program is shaping up at all levels.

“We’re excited about all of our levels,” he said. “Last year from the sixth grade up, every team had a winning record. We’re excited about all of our kids. We’ve got good kids on this team, and we’re got good kids coming. We’re looking for outstanding things.”