KALIDA – With five returners back from last year’s 12-13 squad that made it to the district finals, Kalida head coach Ryan Stechschulte expected to be competitive this season but because the team had not really played as a unit he was uncertain of how the team would perform.
Opening the season with back-to-back wins, the Wildcats looked strong by beating New Bremen and a victory over Ada where Kalida held the Bulldogs to 18 total points.
However, the Wildcats got a solid dose of reality when Archbold bumped off the Wildcats, 69-41, the next game, followed by a crucial Putnam County League defeat to Pandora-Gilboa, 48-35 three days later.
“I was pretty nervous for our kids with Archbold was about to do to us,” Stechschulte said. “We went up there and I think it opened our kids eyes. The kids we have are very smart and they take a lot of pride in team outcomes and to go up there and get one laid on us I think kind of dialed us back and we have a long way to go here.”
Stechschulte said after the loss to the Rockets the team refocused and regrouped.
Since those two losses Kalida, who reeled off nine straight wins at one point, has recorded an 11-2 mark and put themselves in a position to share the PCL title even though the Wildcats would need help from someone to bump off Pandora-Gilboa who is unbeaten in the league.
Stechschulte said the key to the team’s success is a combination of things.
“One we have a lot of multi-sport athletes who have experienced success in other sports,” Stechschulte said. “This fall most of the kids on the team were either competing at the state tournament in golf or playing in the district finals in soccer and if you go back to the spring most were on the district final baseball team. If you keep going back we played in the districts in basketball last year. It is things like that is a big key and a nice foundation as far as success goes.”
Stechshulte said the second reason is the Wildcat players are “ego-free” and added that the players don’t care about anything but who ends up on the winning end of the scoreboard.
This is most evident on the offensive end where the Wildcats share the wealth.
Junior Trevor Lambert leads the team with a 12.7 point but six players players have eclipsed the double-digit points in a game this year. Seniors Josh Klausing and Braden Decker, along with juniors Connor Krouse and Owen Recker are all capable of putting up points. Freshman Luke Erhart has come on strong in the latter part of the season and is averaging a little better than 11 points a contest.
“As a coach you really appreciate that (unselfish play) because that doesn’t come along as often anymore and I think that what has led to us being as good as we have been thus far and it makes me excited looking ahead,” Stechschulte said.
While the Wildcats are well-rounded offensively, Kalida is even better on the defensive end.
In all 13 wins, Kalida has held teams to 50 points or less. In the Wildcats three losses, the team had given up 50 or more points. For the season, the Wildcats are giving up an average of 41.9 points a game.
“Most people point to our defense as our No. 1 strength,” Stechschulte said. “I keep talking to our kids about it and that we don’t have any letups and continue to get better at it. We are fairly long for a Division IV team and the nice thing about our length is we are able to guard multiple spots.”
Stechschulte added that while the defense is getting the job done, the squad still needs to work on its communication skills as the team readies for the last three games and the postseason.
Even though the PCL is an outside shot, Stechschulte admits that he also has one eye on the postseason.
“We know coming up in the next six weeks or so we can make some noise and continue to get a lot better than we are right now,” Stechschulte said.