The Elmwood/Plum City Wolves boys basketball team is used to finishing in the middle of the pack.
"Last year we had a nice group of seniors and their experience from the previous year really helped keep us in games," head coach Chris Segerstrom said. "We weren't excited about where we ended last year, but we did some good things throughout the course of the year."
The Wolves finished 10-14 on the 2016-17 season, which landed them a fifth-place finish in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference.
Segerstrom was proud of his team's defensive effort last year (the Wolves held their 2016-17 opponents to an average of 55.6 points per game).
"I hope that we can keep up our intensity on the defensive side of things and just really be a team that other teams have to prepare for based on our defensive philosophy and execution," Segerstrom said. "I'm hoping that we can even get better in the defensive area, and then also pick up some experience as the year goes on for these kids that haven't played much."
One area of concern the Wolves have this year is their lack of varsity experience due to losing seven seniors after the 2016-17 season. EPC's current roster only features two returning varsity players: senior Luke Baier and junior Tyler Maxwell.
Last year, Baier led the Wolves in scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounds (8.5 rpg). Maxwell floated between the junior varsity and varsity squads during the 2016-17 season, but earned a permanent spot on the varsity team after he started executing well late in the season, according to Segerstrom.
Segerstrom knows his team will have to lean on Baier's and Maxwell's leadership to begin with, but after just two days of practice, the 10-year head coach was already pleased with what he was seeing from his players.
"I can tell you that I'm confident and comfortable with where they're at already," Segerstrom said. "I think just a year of maturity really got them ready. They're a year older and stronger, so I'm hoping that the transition is smooth."
Baier and Maxwell are the assumed leaders for this year's team, but with Segerstrom's method of picking team captains, all players — veterans and rookies — will be granted multiple opportunities to serve a larger team role.
"I kind of treat [captains] a little different than most coaches," Segerstrom said. "I don't necessarily set it as one person; I try to keep it open."
Each week, the EPC coaches delegate new players to the leadership role. Segerstrom's seniors, Baier and Carson Heath, are the first players to take over the captains' positions.
Heath, a 6'3" center, saw little varsity minutes last year, but has already set the tone for what he plans to do this season.
"Be a team leader, and be there if [younger players] have questions," Heath said about his and Baier's roles as captains. "We need to just go out there and have basically the time of our life, because this is the last year we'll play high school basketball."
Heath may take on a verbal leadership role with his teammates, while Baier will lead by example on the court.
Baier led his young team to a 55-53 victory over Gilmanton on Tuesday, Nov. 21 in the Wolves' season opener with 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in his team's win.
The 6'2" center/power forward said he wants to see his team improve even more on defense than years past and that he has his eyes set on a winning record, but ultimately just wants to help his teammates improve and feel more comfortable on the varsity court.
The Wolves' 20 turnovers in Tuesday night's game might indicate that the team still has a ways to go before they're completely at ease handling the ball at the varsity level, and Segerstrom is aware of how crucial this element of the game will be to his team's future success.
"Ball handling and taking care of securing the ball — that's one area where we feel like we have to do well," Segerstrom said, "because if we don't, it's just going to be a struggle for us.
"I think we have a chance to beat some teams and maybe surprise some people, but we also have to do what we can and take care of business," Segerstrom added. "Otherwise, we will struggle some."
Tuesday, Nov. 21 EPC vs. Gilmanton
Gilmanton................17 36 -- 53
Elmwood/Plum City....21 34 -- 55
Gilmanton (points)—Hovey 24; Plank 13; C. Rud 9; Werlein 3; Larson, J. Rud 2.
EPC (points)—Baier 20; Glampe, Maxwell, Phillips 10; Forster 5.