When Omro head coach Glen Nelson looks down his bench, he likes what he sees.
All the way to the end.
“We have 12 guys on this roster and I believe at anytime, all 12 can play,” Nelson said. “Some coaches may look down the bench and maybe don’t want to go too deep. But I have no problem putting all 12 guys in and have all 12 guys playing.”
Nelson hopes the depth can offset a lack of experience for the Foxes, who finished 11-11 overall in the regular season last year and 8-6 in the Flyway.
Omro graduated roughly 80 percent of their scoring from last year and have only one player that averaged more than two points per game coming back.
So as the team works to find its offensive identity, Nelson plans to rely on an aggressive halfcourt defense. And that’s where having a dozen players capable of stepping out on the court and contributing comes in handy.
“Guys can really exhaust themselves by playing hard defense and then somebody can come in and do the same thing,” Nelson said. “I don’t plan on pressing quite yet, but more getting in the other guys’ shorts, really playing up on guys. Having guys use everything they have on the court.”
It’s nothing new that defense is slated to be the focal point under Nelson, now starting his second year as head coach of the Foxes.
Last season, Omro held its opponents to an average of 42.3 points per game in the regular season and allowed more than 50 points just three times. In addition, the Foxes held conference champion Laconia to its two lowest point totals of the regular season.
Nelson isn’t relying on any one player to key the defense either. In fact, he said one of any number of players could get matched up with the other team’s best player in a given night or over the course of a game.
So if players want to catch the coach’s eye, it won’t be done taking a lot of shots or putting a ton of points on the board.
“We have more than one guy who could be a defensive stopper, which is great,” Nelson said. “I tell the kids if you want to play, you have to play defense. If you play defense, I will get you some time.”
In search of offense
One of the added benefits of playing such hard-nosed defense is that it could lead to offensive opportunities and easy baskets in transition, which is something Nelson hopes will happen.
Otherwise the Foxes, who averaged a shade less than 41 points per game last season, might struggle to put up points.
Leading the way for Omro on the offensive end is junior Sam Berger, the Foxes top returning scorer at nearly seven points per game and has led Omro in scoring in its first two games of the season.
Beyond Berger, though, Nelson expects the points to be spread out pretty good.
“Other than Sam, I don’t know if we’re getting other guys averaging double digits because I don’t know who’s going to get what for playing time,” Nelson said. “It’s a great thing because teams won’t know who to cover every night.”
One of the reasons Nelson is so excited about this year’s club and the chance to work with it is because of the five sophomores that are on the varsity roster.
Isaiah Kilgas has stepped in as the starting point guard for the Foxes, while Spencer Potratz was the first player off the bench in the opener. Add in Trevor Pomplun, Justin Kasuboski and Hunter Laabs and the Foxes should have a nice nucleus to build on moving forward.
“We have five sophomores up and all of them can play and will play,” Nelson said. “That will help Sam. and I believe Sam will be a double-digit scorer.”
Follow the leader
In addition to the solid defense, strong leadership has been a trademark for the Omro program for the past few seasons.
But with so little experience on the roster, finding out who those leaders will be is a question.
“I think our biggest key is when times get tough, finding that true leader to pick us up, group us up and get us back together so I don’t have to be on the court all the time telling them what to do,” Nelson said. “We need to have that leader on the court, group the team together and fix it and just keep playing.”
Nelson expects Berger to take on some of that leadership role, despite the fact he is a junior.
Berger does have more experience than any other player on the Foxes’ roster and, even though Nelson said he’s not real vocal, has shown the presence of someone willing to take the reins of the squad.
“He’s a great leader by just the way he handles himself on the court,” Nelson said. “He brings guys together. Guys respect him with the way he works. If he goes, guys will follow him.”
Seniors Jon Wilison and Devin Wilson are expected to fall into the category as well.
Wilison had the second highest scoring average among returning players and did see regular action last season, while Wilson opted to come out for his senior season and gives the Foxes a certain presence inside.
“A guy like Devin is a rare kind of kid. There are good post players but they are not the Devin Wilson type. He’s an aggressive kid. It’s huge for us to have a kid like that out. Somebody my bigs can look up and see what I expect,” Nelson said. “And Jon has the ability to do be a leader, he’s just never been in that position before.”
Three Flyway Conference teams won WIAA regional titles last season and all three teams — Laconia, St. Mary’s Springs and Kettle Moraine Lutheran — look to be able to field solid teams once again this year.
That doesn’t mean that Omro is out of the running for a high finish in the conference.
It just means the Foxes will have to go out and earn it.
“In my mind I think we’re a top-four team (in the Flyway Conference),” said Nelson, whose team finished fourth last year. “I believe KML is clearly the team to beat and Laconia has a great team, too. I think we’re in the mix then with 4-5 teams, which means we’re going to have to be ready to play every night.”