Senior forward Aaron Davis (34) will look to lead the Panthers this season, as they prepare for the season-opener at Concord Christian on Dec. 18. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
December 09, 2013MOULTONBOROUGH – There are a lot of question marks surrounding the Moultonborough Academy boys' basketball team entering this season. While the Panthers are technically experienced at the varsity level, they're still relatively young. With three players gone to graduation, including perennial All-State performer Drew Swedberg (now playing at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania), MA will turn to the core of players who made their debuts with the big club just last year to carry the load on the hardwood this winter.
Senior Aaron Davis (forward/center) and juniors Riley Swedberg (guard/forward), Tristan Price (guard) and John McClay (guard) are the core four players returning to the lineup from last year's team, a season in which the Panthers struggled to a 7-12 record that culminated with a playoff loss on the road at Lisbon. It was a transition year for MA, fresh off a Division IV state championship that saw basically that entire team move on to graduation.
"Those four are really the only four that played a lot of minutes coming back," admitted MA coach Matt Swedberg. "The good thing is they had that whole year of everything falling on their shoulders already. They were basically rookies going through a whole season of learning things. Hopefully that'll pay dividends and then we can fill in the pieces around them."
Swedberg said he hopes the Panthers can focus on Davis in the post more this season. The senior big man has developed nicely in the paint, and his strength and strong feel for the game inside will certainly be a point of emphasis in the early-going.
"I'm really looking forward to watching Aaron play," the coach said. "He has active feet, active hands and if he can play like that against our opponents, I think he can have a real strong season. He can really rebound and get to the foul line."
While MA is primarily a guard-based team, Swedberg wants to see the Panthers get the ball inside to Davis, their main low post weapon, to offer a different look to opponents.
"Last year we shot under 30 percent from the floor so I made it my point that we need to get the ball inside more," Swedberg explained. "We have all these guards and they love to shoot, but I'm trying to make it our philosophy that we need to get the ball inside first."
While Price and McClay will once again be outside shooting threats for the Panthers, Swedberg isn't quite sure what he's going to do with Riley Swedberg, his third son to move through the varsity program under his tutelage. The fact that MA lacked a ball-handler last season with brother Drew Swedberg out due to injury for the majority of the season, Riley was pressed into the floor general duties. But with a lack of post threats as well this season, he could see time in a variety of slots.
"I don't have a true point guard," admitted coach Swedberg. "I'd like to have Riley inside working with Aaron but he'll be helping with pressure and ball handling as well. The rest of our team is basically all guards so I'm going to have to see how things go before I decide what his ultimate role with be."
Sophomore guards Andrew Porusta and Eric Dubois both saw time on the varsity squad as freshmen last year and will likely up those roles this winter. While Swedberg is excited about the potential of Porusta aiding the offense as a potential starter, he knows the assimilation into that role will take a bit of time.
"He's obviously an athletic kid and everything's so full speed for him so we're working on controlling that and getting him into the flow of things," Swedberg said. "Right now we're not very deep so I'm searching who can fill roles around our returning guys."
One of those players is likely to be freshman Dylan McLaughlin, who has impressed at the forward slot and will open the year with the varsity.
"He has very long arms, and he's athletic and agile," lauded Swedberg of McLaughlin. "He's still learning the system slowly, basic fundamentals. He's got raw athleticism and talent, we just need to hone it in."
Senior Miles Clarenbach (forward) returns to the sport for his final season after several years away from the game, while juniors Dylan Rowen and Matt Tolman will offer depth at the guard position. McLaughlin headlines a four-person freshmen class that will likely see some time, though Mack Kessler (forward), Connor Porusta (guard) and Matt Norton (forward) are expected to swing between JV and varsity to start the season.
"We're working at some new concepts to them," said Swedberg. "I don't know if we're really a man-to-man team, a zone team, a half court team, a full court team yet... a lot of unanswered questions at this point. We're still trying to figure all the pieces out. But I think they understand what they need to do to get better."
The numbers are strong overall in the program this season, with 13 kids on varsity and 16 expected on coach Todd Clifford's JV team.
The Panthers are slated to open their season on Dec. 18, when the team travels with the girls' team for a doubleheader at Concord Christian (6 and 7:30 p.m.).