MORGANTOWN — You likely wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at its record, but the University High boys’ basketball team has been struggling with a midseason slump.
The No. 4 Hawks (11-3) went 5-1 in the month of January — their lone loss on the road against No. 5 Wheeling Park — but head coach Joe Schmidle noticed a growing sense of complacency. Up until the loss at Park, the Hawks were undefeated against in-state teams, and seemed to have a sense of comfort with where they were at as a team.
“I think a lot of teams get complacent, and I felt like they thought all they had to do was show up and they’d win. I know we’re not that good of a team, and when we went up to Wheeling Park and they gave it to us pretty good,” Schmidle said. “I think that was a wake-up call. It’s very similar to when we went down to Parkersburg South last year when we were undefeated and got beat. A different group of kids, but a similar result.”
Sophomore Ryan Niceler said there was a noticeable lack in energy amongst the team during the beginning of the month, which stemmed from a feeling of invincibility.
“The practices we had before Park, we weren’t practicing as hard,” he said. “Before that, we just thought we were the best team in the state. When we went up there to Park and lost, it made us realize, there are other good teams in West Virginia.”
Schmidle decided enough was enough, and thought it was time for the coaching staff to have a talk with players to set things straight and renew the energy they had opened the season with.
“We just kind of laid the law down and started demanding more out of the kids in practice. We had a few attitude adjustments, and got it turned around,” Schmidle said. “We’re very young — we’re only starting one senior — and I think some of the younger guys are starting to learn that those things we preach to them daily in practice, they’re starting to do it now. Now, they’re seeing why we told them to do this. The results are starting to speak for themselves.”
In the process, Schmidle said that Niceler emerged as a spark of energy, doubling down on the fundamentals and working vigorously to improve. He quickly became an example to his fellow teammates of what Schmidle was looking for.
“I think Ryan was one who turned things up a notch and paying attention to detail. He began boxing out a lot better, defending the post a lot better, and doing a lot of things we’re looking for those guys to do,” he said.
“It kind of became contagious, and we recognize that — when we have kids stepping up and doing the right things, we point it out to the kids.”
Niceler said his energy stemmed from a discussion with Schmidle regarding his aggressiveness on the court, and believes that his coach’s motivational tactics have made an impact not just with him, but across the board.
“Coach Schmidle talked to me about how I needed to be more aggressive in practices and in games,” he said. “I feel like in the past few practices we’ve had more intensity. We’ve been working really hard overall, and trying not to take anything for granted.”
The Hawks travel to Beckley on Friday for the Big Atlantic Classic, where they will tip off at 9 p.m against sectional rival Buckhannon-Upshur.