Jake Combs can pick out a defensive principle as an example. The Monroe Central boys basketball team (9-7) has won six of its last eight games, and first-year coach Luke Zartman credits his players’ growing familiarity with his system as a reason for the success. To Combs, the Golden Bears have become instinctive about keeping opponents “out of the house.”
Combs said Zartman’s system puts a heavy emphasis on helping against a ballhandler to prevent him from getting into the paint, while former coach Jeremy Duncan’s defense was more focused on guarding wing players. It took a while for the new strategy to feel natural, Combs said, but in the past eight games he’s seen it.
“That’s when we really started to get the hang of it,” Combs said.
The Golden Bears play two games this weekend, with a road game at Cowan tonight and a home game against Delta on Saturday. The Cowan game is Monroe Central’s final Mid-Eastern Conference game of the season, and the Golden Bears are third in the league at 5-2. The Delta game was originally scheduled for Dec. 21 and was postponed because of inclement weather.
Combs, a junior, and classmate Chase Bly said the Golden Bears have also improved defensively in the last eight games.
“We’ve picked up theintensity on both sides of the ball, both defense and offense,” Bly said. “But our defense has been getting much better, and that’s what we try to pride ourselves on. And over the last eight games, we’ve stepped that up to a new notch and a new level.”
Zartman, who coached last season at Maconaquah, said it also took time for him to adjust to his new personnel. He was hired in late June, so he lost out on some summer preparation time.
He’s since gotten more accustomed to his team, which features an undersized attack. The Golden Bears have just three players listed on their roster at 6-feet or taller. Bly and Combs, both guards, are their leading scorers. Bly averages 18.2 points per game, and Combs averages 14.3. Bly said they use speed to make up for a lack of size.
“The first three, four weeks of the season this year, I was still getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of our personnel,” Zartman said. “And we had to make some adjustments early in terms of style of play and some of the things that we wanted to do because of personnel. And I think that made a big difference as well. Everything seems to be clicking now.”