As of Wednesday, January 10, 2018
INDEPENDENCE — In each of the past two seasons, Central’s boys basketball team took a 4-5 record into league play — leaving players looking for a breakthrough.
“We’ve been that team that’s .500 and trying to get that big win,” coach Tim Kreta said.
Not this year.
The Panthers enter league play with an 8-2 mark and appear ready to challenge for a Mid-Willamette Conference title.
“It’s a big deal,” junior Brendan Lesmeister said. “Knowing where you stand, the rest of the league is looking at you as one of those top teams they want to get after. We want to keep that high, and keep winning every game.”
Central is also getting healthy at an important time in the season.
Lesmeister missed the team’s first eight games with a finger injury. He returned against Ashland and Hermiston.
“He brings varsity experience,” Kreta said. “He gives us a spark and we get that much stronger with him.”
Lesmeister was originally a wing entering high school, but has converted to a post player for the Panthers.
The transition was originally difficult — requiring a change in thinking and approach — but one that Lesmeister has fully embraced.
“You have to be strong and have a quick move,” he said. “You can’t wait. Once you hesitate, you’ll have people on you. You have to know what you’re doing.”
Lesmeister’s willingness to change his playstyle stemmed from a desire to help his team, regardless of what it meant doing.
“I think it’s that mentality,” Kreta said. “We’re not very tall. We have to have someone take ownership and be willing to go bang in the paint.”
Lesmeister’s return gives Kreta depth in the paint, and someone who isn’t afraid to get physical and is always looking to improve.
“He’s a student of the game,” Kreta said. “He watches and learns. He pulls coaches aside. Getting to watch guys when he was younger, he got to see what happens when you do things the right way.”
Central has seen other players step up in big ways. Senior Peter Mendazona is a consistent scoring threat, while Isaiah Abraham brings a physical presence who takes pride on defense and grabbing rebounds.
“I’m a bit of a bruiser,” Abraham said. “I like getting low and getting boards and helping where I can.”
His energy is infectious, Kreta said.
“Isaiah is a fantastic athlete,” Kreta said. “He’s jumping over people to get rebounds. That kind of energy, you can’t coach that. He knows what his role is on the floor and plays phenomenal defense.”
Players now turn their attention to MWC play.
“We always want to look forward to who is next,” Kreta said. “The guys want to know what it’s like to defend and hold off and continue to be hungry. We know if we take a night off, we’re going to get stung, and that could come back to haunt you.”
The Panthers opened league play against Lebanon Tuesday after press time.
Central plays at Woodburn Friday at 7 p.m. and at South Albany Tuesday at 7 p.m. South Albany entered league play with a 7-3 record.
“Our start gave us the confidence we needed,” Abraham said. “Knowing people will be looking to knock us off gives us more pride and makes us work harder. We love the competition.”