Bluebirds working through tough schedule

By Eric Ingles Democrat Sports Reporter

December 26, 2013

The Cole Camp boys basketball team has opened the season playing teams that had winning records last season, Class 3 teams and Class 3 teams who had winning records last season.

“That’s one thing that we have done in the past is we make sure we play a good schedule whether conference or non-conference,” said Bluebirds coach Tom Ward. “You kind of want to test yourself and see where you stand. Year in and year out we play California, Blair Oaks, Skyline.”

For a team that lost 3-point shooting threats Brendon Rusk and Timothy Ward, who complimented the inside game of center Tanner Oelrichs last season, Cole Camp needed to spend the early part of the season finding other offensive options.

“I think you find who’s going to compete in tough situations,” Ward said. “We’ve lost so many kids from last year’s team we have to find new leaders and new places to score.”

So far in the grueling non-conference slate Cole Camp has gone 3-4, facing teams like California, Versailles and Osage. A game against Blair Oaks had to be rescheduled for later in the year after some bad weather. This weekend the Bluebirds early season test continues with a game against Butler at the W-K Shootout.

“They play extremely hard,” Ward said. “They’ve got two nice sophomore post players. When we saw them in the Warsaw tournament they played very well. They will defend you.”

At the Warsaw Tournament this month, Butler edged Skyline in the first round before falling to Warsaw and Lakeland to take fourth place. Cole Camp fell to Lakeland in the first game before claiming fifth place with wins over Lincoln and El Dorado Springs.

Butler went 19-6 last year, winning the Class 3, District 13 crown before falling to Higginsville in the sectional. Butler also beat Cole Camp 68-59 in the semifinal of the 2012 Warsaw Tournament. This year’s Bears are 3-3 with wins over Skyline, Harrisonville and Archie, thriving on a defense which has held teams to 50 points in each of the last two games.

“They’re a physical group of kids,” Ward said.

While the Bluebirds are still sorting some things out with their lineup, Oelrichs is still playing strong after averaging 19 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last season.

“He’s going pretty well right now,” Ward said. “Scoring average is right about where he was last year. He’s rebounding a lot. The rebounds are about the same, maybe a little higher. I think the biggest thing for us with him is these guys are learning where to get him the ball to be most effective.”

Cole Camp has added the wing play of Connor Balke to the mix. Ward looks to him to shoot from the perimeter and drive as the Bluebirds look to replace the 3-point shooting they lost to graduation.

“We’ve shot the 3-ball,” Ward said. “We’ve been good some nights, we’ve not been good some nights. I would still like to see us shoot the ball more. I’ve been pleased with some of the shots we’ve taken.”

Another player taking a step forward this season is Koby Kneivel, a 6-5 junior forward who dressed on varsity last season but was never much in the scoring mix.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Ward said. “He’s a kid that’s got a lot of potential and you just kind of wait to see how it materializes on the varsity level.”

The schedule, which has tested the Bluebirds so far, will continue to test them through January. Having already played at La Monte, Cole Camp’s next four Kaysinger Conference games are on the road as well with trips to Sacred Heart, Tipton, Northwest and Lincoln scheduled after New Years. They also take a trip to Warsaw and play in the Stover Invitational in January and next host an opponent on the Robert Farington Court Feb. 4 when Stover visits.

“That’s a reason I like to play some of the teams we do; a road game won’t bother you as bad,” Ward said.