VERSAILLES – Versailles returns four starters this season as the Tigers look to defend their Midwest Athletic Conference boys basketball championship.
While many of the players will be the same for the 2016-17 season, Versailles will have a new head coach as Travis Swank, who was the Tigers’ junior varsity coach the past six seasons.
“My first season is going well,” said Swank, who replaced Scott McEldowney. “I have a great coaching staff that helps me out a lot, and we have a lot of kids who are wanting to have a successful season, so the players are working hard to obtain that goal.”
After going 8-1 in the MAC last year Versailles lost to Miami East in the sectional championship of the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament. The Tigers hope to repeat as conference champs this season and make a longer run in the postseason.
“Just like with every team, we have goals of winning our conference and making a long run in the tournament,” Swank said. “We talked the other day that it is great to have those goals in mind, but in order to meet our goals, our focus needs to be on practicing hard and getting better each day in order to meet those long distance goals.”
Versailles lost just two seniors from last year’s team – Brett McEldowney and Jared Niekamp, who combined for 11.9 points a game a year ago.
The Tigers have six returning lettermen, including three seniors in Alex Wendel, Austin Knapke and Connor Custenborder and three juniors in AJ Ahrens, Justin Ahrens and Keaton McEldowney. Wendel, Knapke and the Ahrens brothers all are returning starters.
Justin Ahrens, who is verbally committed to The Ohio State University, is Versailles’ top returning player. As a junior he was named first team all-MAC after leading Versailles with 22.7 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. He also was second on the team with 3.2 assists a game.
Wendel led Versailles with 4.5 assists a game as the Tigers’ point guard last year. He also averaged 5.6 points per game and was named second team all-MAC.
Knapke was named honorable mention all-MAC last year after averaging 6.6 points and 3.7 rebounds a game.
AJ Ahrens, Justin Ahrens’ twin brother, averaged 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds a game last year.
Last year Keaton McEldowney averaged 7.0 points and 2.1 assists a game. Custenborder averaged 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds a game a year ago.
“One of our strengths is we have a lot of experience coming back from last season,” Swank said. “Most of the guys that are returning played a huge part in winning the MAC last season. I think with the experience that they all gained last year, will only help us throughout this season.”
With so many returning players returning and Swank moving up the ranks in the program, Versailles will have a lot of continuity from last year. There will be some changes, though, as Swank puts his stamp on the program.
“I think that all coaches have differences in their approach to games,” Swank said. “I learned a lot from Scott working with him the past eight years. He was a great friend and a person that put a lot of time and effort into this program. I will use some of the things that I have learned from him, and I will use other plans and strategies. I think all coaches have to use what works best for them, and find out what works best for the team in order to come out on top with a victory.”
On both offense and defense Versailles will try to control the paint.
“If we can control the paint on both areas, I like our chances of controlling the game,” Swank said.
Versailles has a lot to build on, but Swank said there’s always room to improve.
“I am a big believer that all aspects of our team can be improved in some sort of way because once a team thinks they have mastered or become good in a particular area, then you find out really quickly that you aren’t as good as you think,” he said. “We are looking at things in a narrow point of view, in the fact that we are taking it one day at a time, one game at a time to improve our team.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.