Tiger freshmen go undefeated
This year, Northwestern’s varsity boys basketball team has gained some attention as a potential contender in District 11. But meanwhile, away from the varsity spotlight, the Tigers’ freshman squad has also been quietly making a name for itself. Coming off a perfect 20-0 season, the cast of promising young athletes has established itself as a future powerhouse in Colonial League Basketball.
“I think it was their connection as a team that really [set them apart],” said Tigers head coach Chris Kretzman, who has led the freshman squad for the past five years. “It wasn’t an individual player dominating the game. The whole team working together. You could tell that they’ve grown up playing with each other.”
According to Kretzman, Northwestern relied heavily on the talents of its star players,RJ Zack and Justin Holmes, in particular, but also benefited from bench contributions. The Tigers’ depth allowed them to keep their starters fresh and hold onto the lead even without their most prolific shooters on the court.
“Guys helped us coming off the bench quite a bit, and they gave [our starters] a break,” said Kretzman. “It was good to see them contribute.”
The coach also acknowledged the role his key athletes played in the team’s strategy.
“Without a doubt we understood where our bell cow was in Justin Holmes, just being a superior athlete at this age,” said Kretzman. “But it [took] everybody to help him out, or step up when he was having a down day. Everybody needed to contribute.”
In addition to team unity, Kretzman also credited his unit’s success to its maturity and composure on the court.
“Something you don’t see at that age is their patience,” he said. “A lot of times with a freshman group, they start to short-circuit a little bit. But these guys were able to move the ball and really work together. I think that was a big key in handling competition.”
But Northwestern’s immaculate record doesn’t mean that it single-handedly bested every opponent. The Tigers had a number of close calls throughout the season, at times salvaging victories by less than five points.
“I think we had more blowouts than close games,” Kretzman said. “But there were times when we were down at halftime and we were able to come back and win.”
Of the handful of close encounters the Tigers won this season, the coach cited their matchups against Southern Lehigh and Salisbury as two of the most memorable.
“We’ve always struggled against Southern Lehigh, and we were actually able to beat [them] not once, but twice, including down at their home court,” said Kretzman. “If you can beat a team like that, a school that size, that’s pretty big. Against Salisbury, the first time around, we only beat them by one or two points. The second time we played them, we were able to beat them by a little bit more, so that showed a little bit of growth.”
Some might be quick to say that the freshman team’s success is a preview of what they’ll achieve at the Varsity Level. But while this unit will almost certainly contend for a Colonial League title when the time comes, Coach Kretzman isn’t so quick to make judgments. Nonetheless, he is optimistic about the future of his players.
“It’s hard to say [how good they’ll be], because you don’t know where the other programs are right now,” said Kretzman. “But I would say that if they continue to do what they’re doing, and those core guys keep playing together, they should have success. There’s no reason they can’t.”