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Falcons hope to rebound after busy winter break
There was little rest for the weary Falcon boys basketball team this winter break.
While their peers enjoyed a respite from school, the Falcons were busy in the gym trying to get on track for a strong finish to their season. So far, things have not gone well for South Whidbey basketball.
Starting the season 1-7 overall, the only victory — an important one against Cascade Conference rival Coupeville — has soundly bumped South Whidbey to the bottom of the league. Even before the team took a break from games, things were looking up.
After scoring less than 50 points in the first five games, South Whidbey tallied 50, 67 and 59 in the last three. And that was without senior forward Nick French, a four-year varsity player and two-year starter.
“It changes the whole environment of the team,” said head coach Scott Collins of French’s impending return to the court. “He plays 100 percent all of the time.”
French missed the first month while he rehabilitated an injured knee, sustained during the football season in which he was South Whidbey’s starting quarterback and also the team’s leading rusher. Last year, he was the only South Whidbey player picked for the all-Cascade Conference second team by a coach vote.
During practice Thursday morning, he wore a soft wrap on his left knee. His mobility was hardly limited, however, as he drove to the hoop, moved side-to-side on defense, dove for loose balls, and sprung up for rebounds.
Drills were also a little grittier, with players chasing long rebounds, securing the ball tighter and fighting for position when he was on the floor.
“That’s because Nick’s back,” coach Collins said.
This is the first-year coach’s first time seeing French in a game. Though he coached a few seasons until 2009, Collins left the program and only returned after the previous coach died suddenly last summer. Ideally, the coach said, French’s presence gives the team a fourth option on offense in addition to senior Brandon Asay, senior CJ Sutfin and junior Parker Collins.
Last year, Collins and French were the go-to guys near the basket. This season, with French out, Collins became the main interior scorer and saw a lot of attention from defenders when he was near the hoop. Hopefully, Collins said, French’s return will make South Whidbey more potent on offense and defense.
“He takes care of the ball well, which we need to improve on,” Collins said. “Defensively, he really gets after it and makes turnovers on them.”
Defense was the name of the game during practices this past week. While South Whidbey’s offense was improving over the past four weeks, its defense struggled to limit opposing teams. Squads scored at least 53 points and as many as 80 against the Falcons. For a team that struggles on offense, allowing that many points is a losing recipe.
“We’ve had these two weeks to regroup,” French said. “Everybody’s working hard. We’re ready to play again and have a win streak, hopefully.”
Adding some grit and toughness in the form of French and his impact on the team, Collins hopes South Whidbey will find a new identity in its defense. At the start of the season, he wanted to turn the team into a run-and-gun sort, one that scores quickly because it steals the ball. So far, that hasn’t been the case other than the 67-53 win at Coupeville.
South Whidbey will have its first test with French in the lineup against Lakewood (2-1 Cascade Conference, 3-4 overall) at home Jan. 7.