Ever since this year’s batch of seniors joined the Manitowoc Lincoln boys basketball team, the program has steadily improved and been on the rise in the Fox River Classic Conference.
Now, in their final year, the seniors once again are looking to improve upon last year’s 16-7 overall finish, the program’s best in more than five seasons. The Ships’ season came to an end in their regional opener last season with a 51-47 road loss to Kimberly.
“Anytime you enter a season your first goal is to win conference and our conference is very, very good and anyone who wins this league has done a tremendous job,” Lincoln coach Brian Gallagher said. “This is a team that has the talent to do it, but there are a lot of good teams and sometimes you need things to fall your way as the season progresses.”
Fortunately for Lincoln it did not suffer any crippling losses to graduation in the offseason. Gone is the Ships’ second-leading scorer from last year, Carvell Oliver, but Lincoln’s go-to offensive weapon and No. 1 scorer from last season Austin Mecca returns along with several other players who just barely trailed Oliver’s points total. The 6-foot-8-inch Mecca, a first-team All-FRCC selection last year, will be the target of many defensive schemes along the way, but Gallagher says the standout is ready for anything he faces.
“Austin has had a great career and your senior year you want to go out on a high note. Teams focus on him, but last year he had a good season and … that’s something he wants to duplicate,” Gallagher said. “He has put himself in position to do that. I think Austin is a player that has had good years but his best basketball is ahead of him. I think the sky is the limit for him.”
Gallagher said that because so much emphasis will be placed on stopping Mecca by opposing teams, he will additionally be looking to seniors Jake Rohrer, Patrick Johnson and Kyle Hoffman to step up when called upon offensively.
“Those four, if we are going to be successful, are going to have to be good. They will be the guys we rely the most on,” Gallagher said. “Six of our top seven players are seniors. We had a nice season last year, and improved from the year before, and we are looking to build on that and improve this year. I think we have a tough conference and non-conference schedule so this group will earn everything it gets.”
The biggest loss for Lincoln is its three senior guards from last season who brought a defensive tenacity that Gallagher said will be difficult to replace. Additionally, with three of last year’s guards gone, ball handling has become a concern for the Ships.
“I think the big thing for us is we need to be able to play strong defense and guys have to compliment each other,” Gallagher said. “We have the players to do that, it’s just a matter of continuing to build as the season goes on and play your best basketball when the tournament starts.”