2021 boys varsity basketball season preview

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After an underwhelming finish to last season and a powerfully frustrating beginning to this year, high school basketball has finally returned. Due to the effects of COVID-19, the state government and the MHSAA made the decision back in December to postpone all contact sports played in the winter. Following several orders continuing the hardware hiatus, the Michigan state government has concluded that all contact sports may proceed with competition. After last season’s heartbreaking first-round exit at the hands of the Rockford Rams, this season’s varsity Rangerball team is becoming increasingly hungry for a storybook season. Alas, basketball season at FHC has officially arrived.

For FHC, the past few years have been spent on maintaining one of the most storied programs in the OK Conference. Following the departure of 24-year head coach Ken George in 2018, the keys to Rangerball were handed down to former player and well-respected coach Kyle Carhart. In his first two seasons at FHC, Carhart has had considerable success, accomplishing a winning record in 2019 and 2020 and a conference title last year. Despite this regular-season fortune, the Rangers have lost early in the playoffs for both years. 

“To now be coaching at FHC is honestly something that I never anticipated,” head coach Kyle Carhart said. “Transitioning to varsity coach was made easier due to the fact that coach [Ken] George was willing to provide insight as I have gotten going.” Additionally, Carhart’s impact on the program dates all the way back to the early 2000s, as he played under coach George in a few extremely successful seasons. 

“I have had a great experience in my time in the Rangerball program,” Carhart said. “I have had a unique view prior to being hired as a coach because I was a player in the program and a competitor against it [while coaching at Lowell].” In the time that followed his departure from FHC, the head coach played college basketball at Grand Valley State, followed by a professional career in a variety of European countries. The new face of Ranger basketball has used his vast experience to his advantage and will continue to as he proceeds with his Rangerball coaching career. 

At the conclusion of the 2020 season, Rangerball suffered some notable losses. Those inducing the most pain included former seniors Jimmy Scholler—a 1,000 point scorer at FHC—and Mitchell Wilkinson, as both players continue to play at the NCAA Division II level. Losing Jay Weiner and Tommy Spaletto to graduation and George Hatchett to the transfer portal creates significant shoes to fill for the upcoming team; nevertheless, these gaps present opportunity for any player on this FHC roster. 

Returning to the Ranger squad for this season, the class of 2021 will be expected to bring intensity and energy from day one. As members of the starting lineup last season, guards Jonah Spates and Dallas Hopson are each known for their tremendous scoring ability and defensive skillset, topped off by the ball-handling and defensive wizardry of Jeremy James and Peyton Bush. Down low, big men Jacob Ervin and Matthew Mahoney are assigned the responsibility of the tough, bruising work on both sides of the ball. Looking at this year’s team, the basis of leadership stems heavily from its seniors. 

“The senior leadership on this team is next level,” senior hooper Dallas Hopson stated. “We have a bunch of returning guys who all lead in their own way and care a lot about Rangerball.”

The passion and dedication to the program by the upperclassmen are unmatched on this team, as this fire and fury will likely become noticeable when it comes time to play. However, any great basketball team needs leadership and engagement from everybody—not just the seniors.

On the younger side, the varsity basketball team holds colossal talent. In the eleventh grade at FHC, a set of big-time players have waited their turn for the spotlight. Guards Benny Scholler and Jacob Bonnett have joined forces to produce one of the top guard-pairs in the conference at the freshman and JV levels, establishing a potential duo to keep an eye on. In the frontcourt, standout athletes Conner Milton and Pierson VanGorp will look to have an immediate impact. Additionally, forward Joe Seurynck adds his rebounding and defensive skill set to an already-impressive junior class for FHC. No matter the age or experience, Carhart will be looking to flex his depth as a team and play as many kids as he sees fit. 

“I think they’ll fit right in,” Dallas said, describing the “younger-brothers” of the team. “They are all good learners and have a passion for the game.” It is clear that this junior class is well-respected by all, as their chance at the bright lights has arrived. Limited roster space and playing time creates high stakes for the junior ballers aspiring to see the floor.

“There is a lot of great talent at our grade level, so it makes it really fun to play and compete. It definitely makes us better,” remarked big man Joe Seurynck when asked about the contest among juniors. “It makes us push each other and know that we can count on one another especially when we play some of the tougher teams.” The class of 2022 will be relied on to make plays throughout the entire season, and the profound skill of these five players set them up to do just that. 

It’s tough to tell the extent of the basketball schedule at the moment with possible COVID cancelations and interruptions; however, the competition in this current season will likely be higher than ever. In 2020, the OK Conference decided to restructure the divisions. As a result, FHC will now square off twice against powerhouse programs like East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Christian, Forest Hills Northern, and Northview. In the general sense, the new conference alignment poses a significant challenge for FHC, as the new teams tend to be more successful and talented than previous teams in the conference. Regardless of the new degree of difficulty, the coaching staff for the Rangers has made it clear that this team will be ready to play, no matter the date. As the season schedule continues to be released on a weekly basis, Carhart and his team will begin to get a feel for the upcoming competition. 

“I am confident that our players this year will again leave a lasting legacy for future players,” Carhart noted. “This unique season has made so many things more challenging, but our coaches have been excellent in getting everyone prepared and rolling with the constant changes.” Even in the presence of a pandemic, the aims of the Rangerball program remain sky-high. 

There is no question that the FHC boys varsity basketball team has boasted various records and accomplishments in its treasured history. The Rangerball program has been around to witness many district championships and a few regional titles. Despite this, the forthcoming season will be a testament to the perseverance and execution of the historic program; the unfolding of events between now and the end of the season will display the true meaning behind the poetic competition of high school basketball. 

To kick off their first two games of this bizarre season, Rangerball will head on the road to take on the Northview Wildcats on Wednesday, February 10th, and then they will then head back home to play Forest Hills Northern on Friday, February 12th.