Updated Sat, Nov 9, 2013 9:43 am
It’s about that time of year again. The time where the weather is getting colder, the leaves are changing, college students are studying hard to get their GPA up before the end of the semester, and the Marietta College Pioneers are getting ready to stomp on the hardwood floor of Ban Johnson Arena as basketball season begins.
The Pioneers are coming off a 20-8 season, 14-4 in the Ohio Athletic Conference, and a trip to the Division III NCAA Tournament. They look to be just as dominant this year as they return senior point guard Tyler Hammond and a group of fresh talent to provide him with backup.
Hammond is coming off an outstanding junior season, averaging 24.6 minutes, 11.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, three assists and 1.4 steals per game and earning an honorable mention for All-OAC selection for the third year in a row
To outdo last season’s success, Marietta must solve its away game woes, as the Pioneers went 6-6 outside of Ban Johnson Arena where they went on a nine-game winning streak last season to cement a solid 13-2 home record.
The season looks bright this year and according to head coach Jon VanderWal the Pioneers are going to compete at the same level as last year and hope to capture another OAC championship.
“We fully expect to compete at the top of the OAC again this year,” he said.
Although they graduated five very good seniors last season in Tyler Worstell, Scott Kimmey, Jacob Owens, Jason Humphrey and J.J. Martin, coach VanderWal isn’t worried.
The team will have a different look this year, he said, but the Pios will be just as efficient with Hammond being the only senior and leader of the team this season.
Also looking to step into a leadership spot will be junior post player Garret Stephenson who will be looking to establish himself as more of an offensive presence this year. Stephenson was the closest to Hammond’s averages with 17 minutes, 7.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.
While these stats may not exactly jump off the sheet, both Hammonds and Stephenson were sharing minutes last season. Hammond started 27 of the 28 games playing at the point guard position. He shared time with the now-graduated Owens and Worstell. Now Hammond is the main man and time will tell if he can handle that pressure.
As for Stephenson, he had major competition as a sophomore, competing for a forward spot with six other players, two of which were upperclassman.
The team will also be looking to finish games in regulation time instead of taking games to overtime, which it did five times last season including a pulse-pounding three-overtime win over Wilmington College as the fans in Ban Johnson Arena wildly cheered them on and a similar two-overtime win over Heidelberg last year.
With a great fan-base that ranks ninth in the country in Div. III attendance and strong support from the student section that fills Ban Johnson Arena with wild screams and shouts of encouragement, the Pioneers will look to do well at home again this season.
As the season grows closer, players lace up their shoes and step back onto the hardwood and look to shake off the rust of the college offseason. For the Pioneers, this means more than most, as they open the season on home court hosting the Marietta Shrine Tournament from Nov. 15-16. They play Ohio Christian University in the first round Nov. 15 at 8 p.m.
For coach VanderWal this will be a proving ground for this year’s players and how they will live up to his expectations this year.
“Anything less than an OAC championship and another appearance in the NCAA Tournament will be disappointing for us.”