Young Lakeland Christian Team Excited To Gain Playoff Experience

February 27, 2024 at 5:30 p.m.

By CONNOR MCCANN Sports Editor

Last season, the Lakeland Christian boys basketball team was the biggest surprise in Kosciusko County, going 19-6, sharing the Hoosier Plains Conference title and making it to a sectional championship game before falling to Bethany Christian. That team was led by Times-Union Player of the Year Seth Martin, who is now continuing his basketball career for Grace College.
Along with Martin, that group was an experienced one, with four seniors starting on a nightly basis. This year, the Cougars are a much younger team with no seniors on the roster. The young group heads into the playoffs at 5-18 and without a win in the Hoosier Plains (0-5), but head coach Taylor Long is pleased with how this young group, which features many players without any varsity experience before this season, has come along.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth across the board [this season]. The fire that these guys have been thrown into this year has refined their skills, habits, and toughness,” Long said. “We’ve figured out their roles and what we need to do in order to be competitive. These guys have made a lot of strides, have stepped up and been steady in their roles.”
Long’s belief that the team has grown throughout the season is backed up on paper as well. Four of the team’s five wins this season came on January 30th and later, including two of the final four games of the season. Against the sectional field, Lakeland Christian is 1-3, the victory being a 52-43 win over Lakewood Park Christian back on February 1.
Diving deeper into the five-team IHSAA 1A Sectional 51, the first and only quarterfinal game will be the most anticipated contest in the bracket. Host-school Bethany Christian (12-11, 5-0 HPC) will take on Elkhart Christian (13-9, 4-1 HPC) in a matchup of the only two teams that are above .500 going into the tournament. In the first semifinal game on Friday night, Hamilton (2-20, 0-6 Northeast Corner) will face off against Lakewood Park Christian (6-16) before the Cougars play against the winner of the Bethany and Elkhart game in the second Friday contest. LCA will have a week off in between their final regular season contest last week against Whitko and this Friday’s playoff game.
“I think getting the bye is a good thing for our guys. It gives us important opportunities to rest and time to prepare. The balance comes more on the mental focus of going through the long week of waiting,” Long mentioned. “It will be constant reminders on what our goals are, creating environments that challenge them in a way to get them ready for the high-pressure situations of a sectional semifinal.”
With a roster featuring so many players that haven’t even reached their junior year yet, the pressure cooker that is the IHSAA tournament can serve as yet another trial by fire for Long’s team. He says he expects his younger players to rise up to the challenge while learning a thing or two that will help them as they reach upperclassmen status.
“Experience can be one of the best teachers. Often, that experience brings the toughness needed to be successful. While most of them haven’t experienced the section tournament, they’ve spent all year in the fire gaining valuable experience. I’ll be excited to see how they respond to a new experience, a new fire, and what kind of competitive spirit it can bring out of them.”
One of the few players on the Lakeland Christian roster that does have that tournament experience is junior Micah Martin, who got some meaningful minutes as a sophomore on last season’s sectional runner up. Martin has been a rock for the Cougars all season long, averaging 16.6 points per contest while scoring the ball in a variety of ways. The big man can get it going from outside the arc while also punishing you down low in the post. Along with his fantastic play on the court, Martin has emerged as the leader of the team as well.
“Micah has been so great for us this year. He’s obviously the linchpin to what we do and who our opponents will key,” Long said. “We need him to have a great weekend in all areas of the game for us to stay competitive.”
Another player that has done well scoring the ball is fellow junior Josiah Rice, the only other player on the team to average double figures at 10.8 PPG. Sophomore Aaron Guase averages just under 2.5 points a contest, and could be another player to keep an eye on. In limited minutes last season, he was a part of the 19 win Cougar squad as a freshman.

Last season, the Lakeland Christian boys basketball team was the biggest surprise in Kosciusko County, going 19-6, sharing the Hoosier Plains Conference title and making it to a sectional championship game before falling to Bethany Christian. That team was led by Times-Union Player of the Year Seth Martin, who is now continuing his basketball career for Grace College.
Along with Martin, that group was an experienced one, with four seniors starting on a nightly basis. This year, the Cougars are a much younger team with no seniors on the roster. The young group heads into the playoffs at 5-18 and without a win in the Hoosier Plains (0-5), but head coach Taylor Long is pleased with how this young group, which features many players without any varsity experience before this season, has come along.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth across the board [this season]. The fire that these guys have been thrown into this year has refined their skills, habits, and toughness,” Long said. “We’ve figured out their roles and what we need to do in order to be competitive. These guys have made a lot of strides, have stepped up and been steady in their roles.”
Long’s belief that the team has grown throughout the season is backed up on paper as well. Four of the team’s five wins this season came on January 30th and later, including two of the final four games of the season. Against the sectional field, Lakeland Christian is 1-3, the victory being a 52-43 win over Lakewood Park Christian back on February 1.
Diving deeper into the five-team IHSAA 1A Sectional 51, the first and only quarterfinal game will be the most anticipated contest in the bracket. Host-school Bethany Christian (12-11, 5-0 HPC) will take on Elkhart Christian (13-9, 4-1 HPC) in a matchup of the only two teams that are above .500 going into the tournament. In the first semifinal game on Friday night, Hamilton (2-20, 0-6 Northeast Corner) will face off against Lakewood Park Christian (6-16) before the Cougars play against the winner of the Bethany and Elkhart game in the second Friday contest. LCA will have a week off in between their final regular season contest last week against Whitko and this Friday’s playoff game.
“I think getting the bye is a good thing for our guys. It gives us important opportunities to rest and time to prepare. The balance comes more on the mental focus of going through the long week of waiting,” Long mentioned. “It will be constant reminders on what our goals are, creating environments that challenge them in a way to get them ready for the high-pressure situations of a sectional semifinal.”
With a roster featuring so many players that haven’t even reached their junior year yet, the pressure cooker that is the IHSAA tournament can serve as yet another trial by fire for Long’s team. He says he expects his younger players to rise up to the challenge while learning a thing or two that will help them as they reach upperclassmen status.
“Experience can be one of the best teachers. Often, that experience brings the toughness needed to be successful. While most of them haven’t experienced the section tournament, they’ve spent all year in the fire gaining valuable experience. I’ll be excited to see how they respond to a new experience, a new fire, and what kind of competitive spirit it can bring out of them.”
One of the few players on the Lakeland Christian roster that does have that tournament experience is junior Micah Martin, who got some meaningful minutes as a sophomore on last season’s sectional runner up. Martin has been a rock for the Cougars all season long, averaging 16.6 points per contest while scoring the ball in a variety of ways. The big man can get it going from outside the arc while also punishing you down low in the post. Along with his fantastic play on the court, Martin has emerged as the leader of the team as well.
“Micah has been so great for us this year. He’s obviously the linchpin to what we do and who our opponents will key,” Long said. “We need him to have a great weekend in all areas of the game for us to stay competitive.”
Another player that has done well scoring the ball is fellow junior Josiah Rice, the only other player on the team to average double figures at 10.8 PPG. Sophomore Aaron Guase averages just under 2.5 points a contest, and could be another player to keep an eye on. In limited minutes last season, he was a part of the 19 win Cougar squad as a freshman.

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