HAZELWOOD: Does Norwalk have the pieces to contend?

Mark Hazelwood • Dec 10, 2018 at 6:59 PM

NORWALK — Every day is going to get better.

Just 10 days after taking snaps with a realistic chance to reach a state championship football game, Garrett Chapin and several Norwalk teammates played a basketball game with just a few practices.

In a way, the results were obvious, given the circumstances.

“I am not in shape … not in shape at all,” Chapin said. “The speed and tempo is a big difference.”

Choosing not to backload the schedule with too many games, longtime Norwalk coach Steve Gray only delayed the season by three days. Five of his 13 varsity players, including two starters and two of his best players, essentially had no time off from the historic football season.

And boy, did it show.

The Truckers didn’t score for nearly half the game last Monday at Huron, including all of the fourth quarter in a 44-33 loss. Chapin was admittedly sluggish, All-Ohioan Brandon Haraway was in street clothes — and a third starter, Garrett Obringer, was knocked out of the game in the first half after a nasty hit to the face.

But in the days that followed last week, the big picture became more clear — and there is a lot to like. In victories over Tiffin Columbian (54-42) and at Mansfield Madison (63-43), it wasn’t just two or three names to talk about in the boxscore.

It was more like six or seven.

Kyler Lacy, the only returner from last season not on the football team, was given high praise by Gray entering the season for his ability to shoot from the outside. In three games, the 6-foot-5 junior is 10-of-16 shooting with 29 points (9.6 points per game) and 17 rebounds (5.6 rebounds). Many of those shots were perimeter-based, not from inside the paint.

Sophomore Will Gehlhausen had 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting with four assists and four steals in the win over Columbian in just his second varsity game. In that same game, Austin Brown added 13 points, three rebounds and four steals. The senior missed all of last season with a knee injury, making it also just his second varsity game.

Obringer returned to score 13 points and grab 11 rebounds in the two wins over the weekend, which was also the first significant varsity action for the junior. Freshman Ian Minor (6-3) added 10 points in Saturday’s win.

Everyone knows what to expect and the type of production Haraway and Chapin (when he gets back in full game shape) will provide most nights. But if any of the above mentioned name can develop into consistent threats, the momentum from last year should continue for the Truckers.

After a 3-7 start last season, Norwalk finished out by winning 11 of its last 14 games. Two of those losses came by a combined seven points against quality opponents, Shelby and Sandusky. Add in an early 2-1 start, and the Truckers are 13-4 since game No. 11 of a year ago.

I saw many of those games. A year ago, it was clear that it was a team that wasn't the most talented as a whole, but got energized by outside noise regarding the program among other things. Again, I can't stress enough it's very early. But this appears to be a team that is potentially as deep or deeper than last year.

“Like I told the team — If you feel like taking a night off, the other kids will be happy, because that’s minutes,” Gray said. “If they’re not going to play hard, then they are going to sit. But these kids have too much pride in themselves to let that happen. Guys like Ryan Sowders, Obringer and Minor ... everyone was really good (Saturday).

“Everyone is better with Brandon,” he added. “He makes people better because everyone wants to lock in on him, and for good reason. But that also allows other kids to display their abilities.”

At the same time, there is still a lot to learn and see unfold. With respect to those programs, Huron, Columbian and Madison won't be anywhere near some of the competition the Truckers are yet to face — including this Friday at Clyde.

Of course there is Sandusky twice, while Perkins and Bellevue will hardly be pushovers in the SBC Lake. Non-league games include Lexington, a Division II state semifinalist a year ago, Ashland and Ontario. A pair of Div. IV teams, Cardinal Stritch and South Central, could be favorites to win their respective districts.

Last season's late surge had the Truckers playing for a league title in their second-to-last game of the year. Again, challenging games lie ahead — but you can't discount the possibility of the same opportunity this coming February.

“It was a tough opener, but I believe every day is going to get better," Chapin said. "And as long as we do that, we’ll be fine."

There is never any way to prove football success can or will carry over to basketball. Everyone has different answers. But Gray has found himself in the early going pointing back to the gridiron often.

“We were disappointed last Monday, but came away pleased Friday and Saturday — especially with the way we defended," he said. "I don’t think we’re close to being as good as we can be, and that’s just going to take time and patience.

"I’m not a very patient person, but take a step back for a minute," Gray added. "We won two out of three this week and held three teams under 45 points. Two weeks ago, several of these kids were playing in a state semifinal football game … I'm very pleased with them.”

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