Last season, the Ravens endured an up-and-down year before heating up at the end, making a run to the HCAC semi-finals. This season, coach Owen Handy and his team look to build upon that run and take things even further.
Handy is entering his seventh season as the head men’s basketball coach at AU. In his time, he has taken the Ravens from an average and inconsistent team to a recurring force in the conference tournament.
This year the Ravens will be without guards Trevor Lucas and Cory Kreiger, who graduated last spring. While Handy admits these were very important players for the Ravens last season, he is confident that his team is capable of replacing their talent.
“In regard to replacing the talent that we lost, this is going to sound mean because I really like those guys, but it’s already been done,” said Handy. “Malik Laffoon has been fantastic as the point guard and we have other veteran guards that have been really good. They’ve played well and with maturity. They’re actively competing in everything they’ve done.”
Laffoon was fourth in scoring last season for the Ravens, averaging 9.6 points per game primarily off the bench. In his junior season, he feels ready and able to take over the starting point guard job, but won’t be complacent in his efforts to continue improving his game.
“I’ve been working on looking for my shot more than years past,” said Laffoon. “I’m always looking to create for my teammates as well as defend at a high level. Everyone has big roles to play whether it be in practice or the games.”
The Ravens will be more experienced than they have been in years past with seven seniors on the roster. Wes Davidson, a senior forward, has seen his role on the team change over his four years, but believes it is the job of the large senior class to get the younger players ready for the season.
“In my first three years I was a roleplayer who would bring energy off the bench,” said Davidson. “Being a senior, it’s been a lot different. I’ve been more of a leader this year and the other seniors and I have worked hard to help the freshmen improve. There’s a sense of urgency for us as seniors, being our last year. Taking every practice as a chance to get better and playing every game like it’s our last will take us to the next level.”
Many on the team believe that the team is ready to take it to that “next level” and compete for the HCAC championship. The conference is much more wide open than it has been in years past, according to Handy. Perennial powerhouses like Mount St. Joseph and Hanover each graduated four starters last season, creating a lot more unknown within the conference. With a number of talented underclassmen and a good amount of returning starters, the Ravens feel like this really could be their year.
“Every year my goal for the team is for us to reach our potential and play to the fullest of our ability,” said Handy. “If we stay healthy this team is more than capable of competing to win the conference. I expect that Mount St. Joseph and Hanover will both be very good still because they have tremendous coaches that recruit exceptional talent, but a lot more teams will feel like they have a real shot at the conference this year because of the uncertainty.”
The problem early on for the Ravens has been their health. Starting forwards Brady Ashton and Cole Hartman missed all of the preseason with injuries. Both have returned to practice but neither player is capable of handling their normal workload of minutes yet. Because of this, Handy will have to rely on younger players to fill the void until the two seniors can fully return.
“I am hopeful that the two of them will be on the court sooner than later,” said Handy about his injured seniors. “Once they’re cleared we will go through the process of getting them in shape and getting them into a flow with the other players. Having those two guys come back will diminish other players roles on the roster so we need to handle that with maturity and a team first mentality.”
The team will have options while Ashton and Hartman recover, most likely relying on Davidson and sophomore Maurice Knight to pick up a lot of their minutes. Handy also has recruited a trio of talented freshman forwards—Dalton DuBois, Mitchell Geller and Michael Rogers—who could also see increased roles at the beginning of the year.
Nonetheless, the Ravens will put out a very talented squad once again this season that should be very exciting to watch. The team is eager to get games underway, whether they are battling injuries or not.
“The team looks pretty good,” said Laffoon. “We have some young guys so teaching them the ends and outs of the defense has been the hardest part, but we all are working hard to get better everyday.”
“I’m ready for the games to get here already,” said Davidson. “In year’s past we’ve had glimpses of success but we’ve come just short of winning the HCAC. We’ve got a lot of talent coming back and if we work together, we’ve got a chance to win the conference.”
AU was picked fourth in the preseason coaches poll behind Rose-Hulman, Transylvania and Hanover respectively. They will look to climb the rankings once the conference season begins on Dec. 1 against Earlham.