All in the blink of an eye, the East Juniata Tigers lost a big part of their team. During a Christmas basketball tournament, starter Cole Snyder -- who's been a great defensive player for the Tigers -- twisted his ankle and like that, forced coach Brock Anders to readjust his starting five.
That's basketball though, or really just sports in general: injuries happen. You just have to move forward the best you can.
Anders knows that, but furthermore, he's fully aware that he also has a younger squad. Anders said before the season started that his younger players were "picking up the slack" in practice and this was their time to show it.
"They've decided to step up and make some plays. It's created some leadership for some of our older guys and given them an opportunity to play and take advantage of minutes and I think once playoff time rolls around (and) we get down the road with some of these league games, I think it's going to benefit us," Anders said after a 58-48 loss to Tri-Valley League rival Greenwood last Thursday.
Looks like Snyder's injury may have been a blessing in disguise. The senior Tiger isn't out for the year (he'll be back relatively soon) but the unfortunate ankle twist has allowed for the younger Tigers to get in and help East Juniata out.
You may not have witnessed the younger players stepping up last week at Greenwood in terms of scoring since Bailey Coder and Nick Lorenz combined for 38 of the team's 48 points. But keep in mind that after Coder fouled out with just under six minutes to play, the Tigers didn't let Greenwood increase it's lead past 10 points until the final 45 seconds. In fact, they actually helped cut it down to eight twice.
"I think all my guys (have led by example). I think the top eight, nine, 10 guys that I've been playing consistently throughout these 10 games have shown true leadership on and off the floor and set great examples for all the guys on the team," Anders said.
Jeremy Pannebaker is one of those guys who have stepped up. The junior has 35 points for East Juniata so far this season off the bench and is averaging 3.9 points per game thus far through the nine games he's seen minutes.
Maybe not phenomenal stats, but when you're playing alongside Lorenz (196 points, 17.9 ppg) and Coder (159, 14.1), your scoring won't necessarily leap out. Pannebaker and the rest of the Tigers bench are helping in other ways on the court though by creating scoring opportunities and rebounding.
And anyway, the bench and starters are looking ahead at getting East Juniata back into the playoffs and perhaps claim a TVL title, not just scoring points. But if last Thursday's match against Greenwood was any indicator of what they have to go through, it's easier said than done.
You see, Greenwood is traditionally good. The Wildcats are the reigning four-time TVL champions, and have claimed the title five of the past six seasons. As per usual, Greenwood's again at the top of the TVL, sitting with a 10-2 overall mark and 6-0 in the league, just one game ahead of East Juniata (9-2, 5-1).
While Josh Ferguson (152, 13.8), Tyler Fegley (119, 10.8) and Ryan Kerstetter (124, 11.3) all lead the Wildcats' potent offense, it's the defense that has helped them stay as successful as they are.
"At our level, we have to be able to play defense to stay competitive and then play as a team. You lean on the guys that came before you that bought into that theory and it's been pretty successful," Greenwood coach Kent Houser said after Thursday's TVL game. "But the truth is, we don't really pay much attention to what happened last year. We're focused on this year. Last year, year before don't win any games for us or score any baskets."
The Wildcats are just taking it one game at a time.
n Jon Gerardi covers boys basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments or questions to him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Jonidial.