Through ups and downs, Rangers stay strongFebruary 24, 2019
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
The Forest Park boys basketball team has taken its fair share of lumps throughout the season. While they’ve dealt with several tough defeats to strong programs throughout the season, the biggest loss wasn’t to another team — it was losing junior guard Isaac Uebelhor for the season with an injury.
But in the wake of a serious injury to one of the team’s best players, the Rangers, as a whole, have stepped up in his absence to make sure the season wouldn’t be a lost cause as the team prepares for Wednesday’s sectional opener against Perry Central in Huntingburg.
“As soon as [Isaac] went down, people were like ‘Oh, man, season is over’,” sophomore forward Curt Hopf said. “But I’ve been very impressed with the way we’ve handled it. We know that losing Isaac was a huge loss for us, but we’ve realized that we can still get things done.”
While Hopf already had made a big impact alongside Uebelhor, the big man had to take on a heavier workload with the team’s second-leading scorer out for the season. It’s also meant an increased workload for players such as sophomore forward Simon Jacob and senior guards Reid Steffe and Elliott Rothgerber.
Even though Jacob, Steffe and Rothgerber all had varsity experience prior to this season, two first-time varsity players have also had a major impact for Forest Park this season — sophomore Wade Leonard and freshman Drew Howard.
No matter who’s been on the court, first-year head coach David Welp has been pleased with the effort and the energy the Rangers (14-9) have provided throughout each and every game.
“These guys are really understanding their roles, they’re understanding what they need to do and what their job is in order to help our team succeed,” Welp said. “I’ve been very happy with all the guys that we’ve had step up.”
The Rangers have had a balanced scoring attack all season — Hopf is averaging 15.8 points per game, Jacob is at 10.0 points per game and Howard is at 7.5 points per game.
While Hopf was a starter on last year’s team that made it all the way to the IHSAA Class 2A state championship game, the rest of this year’s starters are all first-year starters as the Rangers graduated Sam Englert, Daniel Lusk and Collin Hochgesang from last year’s starting five.
Even though it took the new-look Rangers a bit of time to gel early in the season, they’ve showed their strengths as the year progressed with wins over strong teams such as Jasper and Springs Valley.
“I feel like we’ve really started to come together as a family because at the beginning of the season, we didn’t have that much chemistry since we lost so many people from last year,” Jacob said. “As the year progressed, we’ve learned each other’s type of play and we’ve really grown.”
Hopf added: “As we’ve grown together, we’ve taken some hard hits like some 20-point losses but we’ve taken them together as a team. That’s what a team always strives for.”
While Forest Park has gained plenty of support from the underclassmen, the Rangers have also been lead by a steady senior group.
Whether it’s the three-pointers from Steffe (he leads the team with 41 three-pointers made) or the solid contributions off the bench from Rothgerber, Aaron Hurst, Garrett Betz and Garret Jochem, Welp has been very pleased with the leadership that group has shown.
“Our seniors have taken ownership to help us get where we’re at,” Welp said. “We lean on our seniors because we have five of them who have experience — they understand their roles and they’ve really started to produce as well.”
The Rangers will open their sectional against Perry Central on Wednesday, a team they defeated 60-44 earlier this season. If they win the opening game, the Rangers will face either South Spencer or Evansville Mater Dei on Friday — they defeated the Rebels 68-44 in an earlier meeting but lost to the Wildcats 69-48.
What do the Rangers feel they need to do in order to come away with their third straight sectional title?
“Our guys need to be consistent on a daily basis,” Welp said. “That’s what we’re striving to have everyday. We have to continue to work on the little things because those show whether or not we’re being consistent.”
Hopf added: “Teamwork — if we don’t play as a team and we try to play selfish then it’s not going to work out. Teams like Tell City and Mater Dei in our sectional are team oriented and very tough.”
But perhaps Jacob summed up Forest Park’s mantra the best.
“As long as we play Ranger basketball, we’ll be good.”
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