Photo by Drew Fritz/Times-Union
Members of the 2020-21 Warsaw Tigers varsity basketball team pose for the official team photo. Front row (L-R): Caleb Sands, Bishop Walters, Judah Simfukwe, Jaxon Gould, Ben Bergen, Brock Poe. Back row (L-R): Head Coach Matt Moore, Assistant Coach Ryan Bricker, Russ Winchester, Jackson Dawson, Graydon Brath, Luke Adamiec, Kyle Dawson, Assistant Coach David Wayne, Special Assistant Hal Gunter.
Photo by Drew Fritz/Times-Union Members of the 2020-21 Warsaw Tigers varsity basketball team pose for the official team photo. Front row (L-R): Caleb Sands, Bishop Walters, Judah Simfukwe, Jaxon Gould, Ben Bergen, Brock Poe. Back row (L-R): Head Coach Matt Moore, Assistant Coach Ryan Bricker, Russ Winchester, Jackson Dawson, Graydon Brath, Luke Adamiec, Kyle Dawson, Assistant Coach David Wayne, Special Assistant Hal Gunter.

New head basketball coach Matt Moore has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this year’s version of the Warsaw Tigers.

Moore takes over a squad that had some difficulties scoring in the second half of the season last year. The 2019-20 Tigers started 8-1, but lost 8 of 11 games heading into the Elkhart Sectional where they lost to Northridge 60-38 in the championship game. They struggled to score after Christmas break, averaging 57 ppg before Christmas and only 48 per game after.

Returning from that team, however, is a solid set of tough-minded interior players with plenty of experience.

In a season where no Tiger averaged double-figure scoring for the year, senior F Luke Adamiec led the Tigers at 9.9 ppg. Adamiec also led the team in rebounding at 4.5 rpg. senior G Brock Poe was third in scoring at 8.1 ppg.

And with a stable of highly capable scoring talent and passing prowess coming up from last year’s junior varsity team, the ability to score should not be an issue for the 2020-21 Tigers.

Last  year’s JV team was highly successful, going 17-3 on the year, 7-0 in the NLC, and won 14 of their last 15 games.

Junior point guard Judah Simfukwe was the floor general for that JV squad and led them in scoring with 14.8 ppg. Jaxson Gould, a 6’2 shooting guard who is only a sophomore this year, followed closely behind with a 13.9 ppg clip and led the team with almost 6 rpg and 47 steals on the season as well.

Simfukwe and Gould are being counted on to provide a much needed influx of scoring as they move up to the varsity squad and grow into varsity leadership roles.

“We want to win sectionals but I would also say for every school including ours the goal should be to win the state championship and that’s something we’re all prepared to work for,” Simfukwe said.

With regard to the point guard position he added “You just have to have confidence and chemistry with your teammates, that makes everything easier. We have a good group of guys who are going to be easy to play with and that will also make it easy to facilitate running the team.”

Last year’s loss in the sectional finals is a particular point of motivation for Gould.

“Last season I was on the bench and so I was a part of it when Northridge got us in the sectional final and that still stings,”?he said. “Beating them in sectionals this year would be huge for us.”

Bishop Walters is among the seniors expected to provide leadership for the squad’s younger players.

“Being my senior year it’s exciting and with Coach Moore coming it and with his different style of play, it makes it even more exciting,” Walters said. “It’s really enjoyable to play with the guys we have, everyone shares the ball and we’re looking to have a great season and win sectionals. Northridge got us last year and that’s always on my mind.”

Though not a Warsaw native, Coach Moore said his familiarity with the program and its history is something he respects and takes seriously.

“In my lifetime there’s only been two Tiger basketball coaches so I have a pretty good sense of what Tiger basketball means,” Moore said. “I’m excited to be a part of that tradition now and am looking forward to carrying the torch for the guys that came before me.

On taking over the program explained  “There’s a lot of excitement for me. I grew up just down the street in Columbia City so I know a lot about the program from a distance. Coach (Doug) Ogle was a friend of mine and for many years we went on mission trips together.”

Moore is a former Columbia City Eagle and Grace Lancer and takes over as the 18th coach to lead the Tigers in the last 100 years. As an assistant coach, Moore served under former Tiger coach Al Rhodes and at Grace College under Jim Kessler.

As a varsity head coach, Moore started at Kokomo where the Wildkats went from 10 to 14 to 18 wins in his three seasons. He then moved on to Fishers, and led those Tigers from 12 wins to 17 to 18 in three seasons. All totaled, he is 89-57 in his six seasons as a head coach.

At Warsaw, he replaces Ogle, who was head coach for 18 years, compiling a record of 275-141 and finishing #2 on the all-time Tiger wins list.

Taking over a program in te middle of a pandemic has been challenging but Moore is confident in his team’s ability to gel and be ready for the season soon enough.

“You have to learn to control what you can control and I think our staff did a great job of connecting in different ways that we might not have otherwise had we had a traditional summer,” he explained. “It’s all about finding ways to connect with the guys and we’ve done that through texting and social media and phone calls and now finally being able to see them in person and just continuing to grow those relationships has been an important part of getting to where we’re at.

 “It’s about how we can come together,” he added. “There’s a lot of uncertainty with all that’s gone on in the last eight months. But for us it’s just learning who we are and can we be the best that we’re capable of becoming. If we can do that and live inside that each day, I think there are some exciting things for us ahead.”

Tryouts took place Monday, Nov. 9 and last week practices were held  twice daily to help the team get to know each other more quickly given their lack of time together to this point.

“The unique thing about us is that we have a variety of guys who are willing followers,” Moore continued. “It’s hard to have leadership if you don’t have followership. A number of our guys played football and have seen that success and they bring that winning attitude with them. So for us, it’s finding guys who are able to speak into the areas where we need to have voices and hold each other accountable.

“Since I first met our seniors they have shown me they’ve really grown into the expectations we’ve been setting for them.”    

Moore said there are ‘so many’ players with a lot of potential on this year’s squad.

“Caleb Sands (6’2 Sr.) has been absolutely outstanding. He had a very minimal role last year but he’s really stepped into some of our challenges this offseason and has kind of become a voice for us. Bishop Walters (5’11 Sr.) has had an outstanding stretch from July up until now and is ready for a great season. Ben Bergen’s (6’0 Sr.) growth has also been very good. Luke Adamiec (6’4 Sr.) has really turned a corner. With Graydon Brath (6’11 Sr.), his confidence has really grown a lot. And continuing down to the junior and sophomore classes, we’ve seen a lot of things trending in the right way for us. Now we have to see how we navigate adversity and if we can continue to grow and evolve through that.

Warsaw’s season opener is set for Wednesday, Nov. 25 against Indianapolis Shortridge. The Blue Devils are coached by Moore’s former junior varsity coach at Fishers, Drew Fountain. Wednesday will be Fountain’s first game as a head coach.

Warsaw Tigers 2020-21 Roster

 

1    Judah Simfukwe        6’0     170    JR

2    Jaxon Gould        6’2     160     SO

10    Ben Bergen        6’0     175    SR

11    Luke Adamiec        6’4     200    SR

13    Bishop Walters        5’11     160    SR

15    Caleb Sands        6’2     165    SR

22     Jackson Dawson        6’6     190    JR

24     Brock Poe        6’1    180    SR

25    Graydon Brath        6’11    210    SR

32    Russ Winchester        6’5     220    SO

35    Kyle Dawson        6’5     220    JR