Switzerland County's Damian Breeck. (Courier file photo by David Campbell)
Switzerland County's Damian Breeck. (Courier file photo by David Campbell)
Switzerland County girls basketball spent last season dealing with the growing pains that come with an inexperienced roster but with much of the same group in the gym this summer that made an appearance in last year’s sectional championship game, the Pacers’ three-year rebuild may be edging toward completion. At least that’s the expectation.

The Pacers return all but two from a year ago and the group has spent the summer hard at work. With nearly 100 percent attendance by its junior varsity and varsity rosters, third-year head coach Mark Boggs is optimistic that the offseason work put in by his team will be the catalyst to what should be an improved product on the floor once the 2019-2020 season kicks off.

“It was a good summer and I feel real good about where we are at,” Boggs said. “We spent most of it with 80 percent attendance and on some days we had 100 percent and that bodes well for us as we continue to develop a culture for our program. It has been valuable to use in terms of figuring out what we want to do on the floor. Both our varsity and junior varsity made big improvements since day one.”

After finishing 12-12 last year, Switzerland County played in 19 summer games — including four games in Vevay — with a trip to Hanover College for its annual high school summer shootout where the Pacers finished 2-2 on the day. Boggs the goal of summer play isn’t keeping track of wins and losses but creating a platform to gain experience by playing quality competition.

“We played 19 games so I was really proud of the girls and their commitment to playing,” Boggs noted. “We didn’t get caught up in wins and losses. We used these games to determine where our strengths and weaknesses lie and that really for us was the start of molding together into one piece.”

From an individual standpoint, the Swiss saw their core group of 2018-2019 take strides which includes leading scorer Aleiah Thomas, who stands just 48 points shy of 1,000 career points. But Thomas won’t have to put the load all on her shoulders next year. Sophomores Maddie Duvall and Jessie Duvall return along with Josie Meyer, Kiersten Oeffinger and Jaden Harrell, all of whom will add their own unique element of the game to the floor.

Add in names such as Jayden Thomas, Hannah Hayes and Norah Hankins, and the Pacers won’t be short of depth, giving the team some options both offensively and defensively. Switzerland County also gains back sophomore Kyah Chase who returned this summer from injury after not playing her freshman campaign.

“We really showed this summer that one of our strengths is guard play,” Boggs said of the team. “We can really stretch out the floor which makes us tough to defend but at the same time we’re working on priding ourselves defensively. We have some girls who have stepped up to that challenge and can defend at a high level and also some alter some shots.”

With summer in the books, the Pacers await the start of the season in early November but team goals have already been set to think about leading up to that point.

“We want to work for a sectional championship and having experience playing in a sectional championship with the girls we have coming back will help,” Boggs said. “In order to that though, we want to put our emphasis on playing defense but also picking up our scoring. If we can get after girls and get ourselves scoring 50-plus points a game I think we are on the right path. I’m excited about our potential.”

Much like the girls program, Switzerland County boys basketball also thrived this summer with the return of several key varsity pieces to go along with an eager group of youth. Finishing 7-17 last year, head coach Adam Dennis is pleased with what he saw in June and July, and can already see a difference between the situation the Pacers faced last summer compared to this summer.

“Our youth showed last year and we had some depth issues,” Dennis said. “You’re going to have seasons like that but I think this year things are going to click. We had a really good summer with our guys and had about 25 guys in the gym every day so I was really happy to see that. Our older guys set that expectation and our younger guys followed suit.”

Switzerland County played 17 summer games including three games at East Central High School and four games at the Hanover Shootout. The biggest success in summer games though came at the annual Super Hoops summer tournament where the Pacers played 10 games and found themselves in the tournament’s championship game.

The Pacers fell to Kouts — a top five Class A team last year — to finish runner-up in the tournament but Dennis said that experience along with seven other games offered a glimpse into the potential of his team and that the group’s newfound maturity could be seen in their play.

“Our guys were gassed by that championship game and we played that game without Landon Wilks who had left to go on a mission trip,” Dennis noted. “What was most exciting though and most important was our guys seeing that experience. We really did a good job of making plays in the games we played and there were times last year where we were unable to do that. It’s a big step for us.”

Wilks is one of many returning Pacers for a squad that has key role players Zach Weaver and Patrick Stow back for another season. Also returning is leading scorer Damian Breeck, who has played well on the AAU circuit throughout the summer and hopes to continue that play when the regular season rolls around.

“Damian (Breeck) has been really committed and to me is playing the game and shooting the basketball better than he ever has,” Dennis said. “We have around seven or eight guys who are coming back for us that have some varsity experience so that’s exciting. We have really good kids in our program and we want them to be excited about the upcoming year.”

Aspirations for a sectional championship in March loom as the summer comes to a close but Dennis is taking the time to preach that Switzerland County basketball is bigger than the game itself. In the long run, the sixth-year head coach says his biggest goal is to make sure his players eventually look back on their time in a Pacer uniform and remember the work they put in to better themselves as players and men.

“These are just kids,” Dennis said. “We are going to work to win a sectional but I’m not a coach anymore that goes back and counts up all the wins. I just don’t do it. What I want most is for our kids to look back and find joy in what they worked for. I don’t want them having any regrets about their time in this program.”