Southwestern junior Foster Mefford is the Madison Courier Player of the Year. (Photo by Nina Campbell Photography)
Southwestern junior Foster Mefford is the Madison Courier Player of the Year. (Photo by Nina Campbell Photography)
Nobody could predict the type of season Southwestern’s boys basketball would have when they tipped off on Nov. 27. The Rebels were coming off of a 25-win season and even with the loss of two very important starters to graduation, there was every reason to believe the Rebels would be just as good, if not better, than the year before.

But those hopes were dashed quickly. Junior Matthew Williams, the team’s leading scorer, suffered a season-ending knee injury just five games in and injuries quickly ran rampant through the Southwestern lineup. A four-game losing streak in late December dropped the Rebels to 5-5 on the season.

The season could have ended there, but it didn’t. Instead, Southwestern recovered, won 17 games and reached the sectional championship game despite the late-season resignation of veteran coach Jerry Bomholt.

A big reason for the Rebels’ success was the play of junior Foster Mefford. Primarily a facilitator his first two seasons, Mefford emerged as a dominate offensive force who attacked opposing teams relentlessly while keeping the Rebels together.

Mefford averaged an area-best 20.7 points per game and was the easy choice for this year’s Madison Courier Boys Basketball Player of the Year. But it wasn’t just his scoring that set Mefford apart from the field. It was also his willingness to do anything his team needed, regardless of the situation.

“Foster is a winner. His mindset is to do whatever it takes to win. Sometimes that means scoring 40 points and sometimes that means 12 assists. He doesn’t really care about his stats if they don’t help his team win,” Southwestern coach Zac Nussbaum said. “Whether it be during games, practice or off the court; it is all about winning with Foster. He is the type of player that works really hard to make the players around him better, get them involved and if somebody gets hot, he is going to find them every time. Foster will be the first to admit, he has been blessed to play with some really good players.”

“It’s definitely tough, especially when I’ve had players on the team in the past that were those types of players between my brother (Hunter Mefford) and Tyler Kramer. It’s definitely a tougher role than what I expected,” Foster Mefford said. “I’ve never really been a scorer, but when one of your leading scorers goes down and you lose one the previous year, you definitely have to step up and take that role. I felt like I did that. It was exhausting, but when I have other players like Austin Kramer and Billy Eccles step up and put the ball in the hole and Zach defend, it definitely helps.”

Mefford’s ascension into that role was no surprise. He scored a career-high 42 points against South Dearborn late in his sophomore year and he has never shied away from a leadership role.

But Mefford also admits that it is the other aspects of his game — passing, rebounding and defense — that he prefers over scoring.

“I definitely take pride in making my teammates better. At the beginning of the game, the first thing I try to do is to get my teammates involved. My dad always told me that you can’t get yourself going if they’re not going,” Mefford said. “If Billy Eccles is in the corner, that’s where I’m going to drive and kick. Then they’ve got to help on him and that’s where I feel like I can get my points on the backboard or the free-throw line.”

Still, that didn’t prepare Mefford for the difficulties of this season. One game after Williams went down, sophomore Zach Cole suffered a deep bruise on his knee that kept him out a few games. Mefford himself was injured late in a loss to Jeffersonville when he landed hard on his back after grabbing a rebound.

Those injuries could have sank the team. But Mefford said they made everybody determined to overcome.

“It’s like we couldn’t catch a break,” Mefford said. “I felt like during the time, it was hard to stay together but we just told each other that no matter what, we had each other’s backs and we need to figure out how we were going to do this and who was going to step up and I felt like we did our best doing so. It was tough but we got through it and just came up short.”

As rough as the season began, it ended almost as badly. Just days after the Rebels upset Class 2A No. 5 South Decatur, head coach Jerry Bomholt resigned following an internal dispute. Despite that, Southwestern recovered to win three-straight games before losing to Providence in the sectional championship game.

“He is a tremendous leader. The transition from coaches could have been much harder but his leadership was outstanding,” Nussbaum said. “There is an old coaches’ cliché that a player is like another coach on the floor, but this is very true with Foster.”

If there is a silver-lining on the season it’s that several young players who did not expect to play big roles this season ended up playing significant minutes. With only senior Mitchell Cline graduating out of the regular lineup — and with a healthy Williams back — the Rebels should be a force next season.

“With Matthew down, it sucked, but it gave all of those extra minutes to guys like Billy Eccles and Colton Cloud. They got a full year of experience and now with Matthew Williams coming in as a senior, doing what he can do. It made us all better players,” Mefford said. “Hopefully, we can get (Williams) back down in that post and on the 3-point line where we missed him this year. Our expectations next year are definitely really high. We’re looking forward to it.”

As for Mefford himself, he still has some personal goals. Already Southwestern’s career assists record-holder and with more than 1,000 points, he wants to improve his all-around game while making a decision on a college. Huntington University has offered so far, but he said he’s getting plenty of interest.

“Coach Bomholt always told me that when I play at that next level, that instead of getting to the backboard and finishing, I’m going to have to stop and shoot over the taller guys. I’ve definitely been trying to work on that,” Mefford said. “Coach Nussbaum has been key to my success of changing my speeds and changing my height. Ever since I’ve been young, I’ve just been faster than everybody but when I get to college I won’t be.

“I don’t have it set in stone yet where I want to go, but I’m definitely open to a lot of places, whether that be NAIA, Division I, DII, whatever it comes down to,” Mefford said. “I just want to be able to get an education and impact any program in any way that I can.”

“Foster is the type of kid that is never satisfied. He is constantly working on his game and trying to find ways to get better. I fully expect him to come in next year even better than he already is,” Nussbaum said. “He is No. 1 in assists in school history and has a chance to finish second in points. But his No. 1 goal next year will be winning as a team. Players like this don’t come around very often. I hope everyone comes out next year to witness one of the all-time greats this school has seen.”