PLAYER OF YEAR: Reigning Madison Courier Player of the Year and Huntington University signee Austin Clark will be back for his senior year at Switzerland County after averaging 18.2 points per game last year. (Courier file photo by David Campbell)
PLAYER OF YEAR: Reigning Madison Courier Player of the Year and Huntington University signee Austin Clark will be back for his senior year at Switzerland County after averaging 18.2 points per game last year. (Courier file photo by David Campbell)
It's hard to imagine that a team that went 18-5 last year and won a sectional title isn't satisfied. But for the 2013-2014 Switzerland County boys basketball team, that's certainly the case.

Now in his fourth season in Vevay, head coach B.J. McAlister brings back his most veteran group during that tenure. With six seniors and three juniors on the roster, all of whom have varsity experience, there's no question that there is potential for bigger accomplishments this season.

"We did some special things last year," McAlister said. "Not only did we beat Madison just before the sectional but we won 10 straight games en route to winning a sectional title before losing to a tough Perry Central club in the regional. But while those things are great to look back on, our focus is now on this year. We are excited about what we have coming back and we are very capable of doing the same things we did last year and more."

One thing the Pacers don't have to worry about this year is the suffocating pressure of winning a sectional championship. After capturing the crown this past March for the first time since 2006, McAlister says having key players back from that title team makes it much easier to deal with the hype and having a target on their backs.

"The guys that we have on this team have been there before so I don't see there being too much pressure," McAlister said. "They've got their picture on the wall outside the gym and they know what to expect and know what to do to make that happen again."

As expected with a veteran group who knows the routine, Switzerland has spent the offseason and the first two weeks of practice adding to its game instead of starting from scratch. And while there are a few fresh faces sprinkled into the mix, the combined experience of the seniors and juniors has quickly rubbed off on the newcomers.

"We've had great practices," noted McAlister. "Our motto is 'Do what we do' and I've seen that so far. With the experience and depth of this team, they've been impressive. Their abilities have really brought the younger guys up to speed much quicker, too, and I think that's going to be a big key for us."

McAlister said this team has the potential to be the most skilled group he's ever coached. The Pacers, ranked 22nd in the Associated Press Class 2A preseason poll, will be led by 6-foot-6 senior forward Austin Clark.

The reigning Madison Courier Player of the Year and Huntington University signee averaged 18.2 points per game last year and is widely regarded as not only the best player in the area but also one of the best players in the southern part of the state.

"Austin got a lot of publicity and exposure this offseason and rightfully so," McAlister said. "He's a guy who has steadily improved his game throughout his career, especially in the last three years. Had he not dealt with an injury his freshman season we would be talking about the impact he's made at the varsity level for four years instead of three. He's a great kid whose done great things and I'm excited to see how the season unfolds for him."

Alongside Clark will be five other senior friends and teammates who have made significant contributions at the varsity level and played their roles perfectly.

"Braden Burk, Chase Ritch, Bob Tressler and T.J. White," McAlister said. "Those four guys have played at the varsity level now for at least two years and provided us with lots of minutes so we'll be expecting even more out of them this year. Nate Hunter, who is our final senior, has also been a guy who has been very valuable. He's a good teammate who provides us with leadership both on and off the floor."

The three juniors - Riley Phagan, Ben Curran and Tyler Gabbard - provide experience and add depth to the bench. Both Phagan and Curran served in back-up roles at the guard spots last season while Gabbard, a transfer from nearby South Ripley, saw minutes at the varsity level for coach Travis Wrightsman's Raiders.

"Riley and Ben both split time last year between the junior varsity and varsity levels and really performed well in their bench roles down the stretch last year," McAlister said. "As for Tyler, I think he's going to be a nice addition for us in terms of depth and athleticism. He's quickly learning the Pacer way."

Switzerland County opens its season Tuesday by hosting Oldenburg Academy. While the smaller Twisters haven't had year-in and year-out success, McAlister thinks they are the perfect opponent for opening night.

"In terms of a regular season opener there's no better team in my mind to play than Oldenburg," McAlister said. "You never know exactly what they are going to bring to the table. They do such a good job of dictating the tempo and throwing different things at you so it forces us to expect anything and be ready to go on Tuesday."

The Pacers are also looking to capture the Ohio River Valley Conference championship this year, a title that eluded them last season. Switz is predicted by many to win the conference but there are several other teams who are expected to compete.

"The ORVC always seems to get a bad rap for not being the strongest but I think it always works itself out to be a very competitive group of teams," McAlister said. "The best thing about the conference for us this year is that we don't play a game against an ORVC team that counts for the standings until Jan. 17 so by that time there should be a good barometer in terms of knowing each of the conference teams."




2013-14 Schedule

(Home games in CAPS)

Nov. 26 OLDENBURG 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 30 at Southwestern 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 6 at Trinity Lutheran 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 13 RISING SUN 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 20 at South Ripley 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 21 at Christian 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 3 SOUTH CENTRAL 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 9 Rivertown Classic TBA

Jan. 17 SOUTHWESTERN* 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 18 SOUTH RIPLEY* 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 24 at Rising Sun* 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 31 NEW WASHINGTON 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 1 MILAN* 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 7 at Shawe* 8 p.m.

Feb. 8 at Franklin Co. 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 13 at Gallatin Co. (Ky.) 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 21 at Jac-Cen-Del* 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 22 SOUTH DEARBORN 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 28 MADISON 7:30 p.m.

March 6 Class 2A Sectional TBA

*-ORVC Games