Fresh off Final Four run, Patriots ready for season

Published 1:49 pm Thursday, November 14, 2019

Fresh off their Final Four run a season ago, the Pike Liberal Arts Patriots look to take another step forward with a new-look team under head coach Allen Ponder.

The Patriots, following their semifinal run, said goodbye to key seniors Jade Sikes, Cody Hollis and Max Copeland.

“We lost a lot of last year’s team,” Ponder said. “The ones we have coming back, we have added some new ones to it. We are very excited to get started.”

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Last year’s seniors offered plenty of leadership. This year’s leaders, as well as some of the new players, are trying to fill the void.

“You really can’t replace them,” Ponder said. “We don’t have the same type of guys, so we are having to play a different type of game. Losing those guys, you lose a lot of leadership. We have asked guys to step up in that area.”

Because of that, the Patriots enter the season limited in size. Ponder and the coaching staff have revamped their game plan and will now rely on their transition game.

“We are playing a different brand of baseball than what we have played the last couple of years,” Ponder said. “Last year we had some size. This year we are small. There aren’t going to be many basketball games where we aren’t the smaller team. We are going to have to be fast and we are going to be fundamental. We are going to get up and down the court. We are going to press on defense and try to force turnovers.”

Even with the seniors from last year, the Patriots do have experience coming back and the returners know what it takes to make a deep playoff run.

“I feel like last year was the foundation,” Ponder said. “I feel like last year we set the standard for what we expect from our program every single year. Making the Final Four is great. It made our kids hungry to get back there. We were close last year and the guys that came back from last year are bringing the new guys along, make them understand what we are all about.”

The Patriots will be led by returning players, Javon Christian, Nick O’Brien and Drew Nelson.

“We have Drew Nelson coming back,” Ponder said. “He’s a sophomore. He was one our leading scorers last year so it’s good to have him back. Javon Christian was one our better players last year. We expect huge contributions from him. We also have guys who didn’t play as much last year who we will have to have step up and play significant minutes.”

Last season, the Patriots took a step forward to being a program on the rise instead of a team that serves as a bridge between football and baseball season.

“Basketball has always been that filler, a sport that comes along in the winter,” Ponder said. “A bridge between football and baseball. We don’t think it’s like that anymore. We feel it’s a relevant sport and we try to compete every single year. We want to start winning championships.”

The Patriots feel like they took another step towards that goal by remodeling the gym, adding a new floor and bleachers.

“It’s going to be great,” Ponder said. “Visually, when your kids walk in there and they see it they get excited about playing basketball.”

The Patriots will begin their season on November 19 in Montgomery against Success Unlimited.