Posted Online: Jan. 01, 2013, 9:27 pm

Orion boys' cagers finding their own identity

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By Terry Duckett, tduckett@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Orion senior Dylan Schultz tries to get around Rockridge's TJ Henry in Edgington on Tuesday, December 4, 2012.
Just over a year removed from reaching the cusp of the Class 2A state boys' basketball tournament, the Orion Chargers entered the 2012-13 season in search of a new identity.

With the graduations of the past two years taking the majority of the key contributors to the Chargers' 2011 Elite Eight squad from the roster -- including their 6-foot-7 post standout Tanner Williams -- questions were in abundance as coach Brent Hutton's club moved forward.

Now, following an up-and-down 6-5 start, this year's Chargers are starting to find themselves. A recent five-game winning streak propelled Orion into the finals of last week's Cliff Warkins Memorial Cardinal Classic at Erie. Although its bid for a sixth straight Warkins final was denied with a 51-39 loss to Bureau Valley, Hutton's 11-6 team heads into the new year on more solid ground.

"We've had a lot of talent come through here, and having Tanner contribute to the varsity the last three years, that type of talent was a huge loss and impossible to replace,'' said Hutton. "The thing we talked about as the year started was that these kids were pretty even in terms of their contributions on the floor. It's like they came in pairs -- a couple of kids who are good rebounds, who defend well, and who can score.

"We were kind of feeling our way, both coaches and players, seeing what we had going into the season. Now, we're starting to click, and we're definitely getting our identity.''

Hutton points to the Chargers' run at the Forreston Holiday Tournament, prior to Warkins, as the stretch of games where he could start to see things round into shape.

"Although we got knocked down into the fifth-place bracket, we started to play some good basketball at Forreston,'' he said. "We were getting our rotation set, with 10 to 12 kids getting in the games, which is good for us. At Warkins, we started jelling even more until the title game, when a bad second half cost us.''

Helping spearhead the Chargers' recent surge has been the play of senior guard Dylan Schultz. The most experience member of the team entering the season, Schultz has smoothly fitted into a leadership role while averaging 16 points and six rebounds per game, both team highs.

"He's done a great job being a floor general out there, and he works hard to get his teammates involved,'' Hutton said of Schultz. "Adam Killion played a lot better at Erie, and we're looking at him to be the second scorer we need. Dakota Grant is scoring a bit more in the paint, and Trent Zwicker does a nice job hitting from the 15-foot range. Everybody has to take advantage of the opportunities they have on the floor.''

As Orion prepares for a rugged stretch in January and early February, Hutton hopes its recent tournament experiences have cleared the way. "They're good testing places halfway through the season,'' he said. "I think we'll have a pretty good team by the time (the postseason) comes around.''

Orion girls also making strides:The Orion girls' cagers are also hoping to build off a successful run at the Lady Prophets Tournament in Prophetstown as they look to challenge for the West Central North championship.

After winning three of four games at Prophetstown to take third place, the Chargers (10-5, 2-2 WCC North) look to build on the positives of the season's first half, including pushing once-beaten division leader Sherrard before falling 46-41 in the two rivals' first meeting.

The continued strong play of senior center Cassidy Clark also continues to be a rallying point for coach John McBride's club. Having recently joined the 1,000-point club, the 6-foot stanodut netted 86 points in her four Lady Prophet tourney contests, including efforts of 24, 23 and 33 points in Orion's three victories.

What's more, several of the younger Chargers -- players like junior guard/forward Baillie McCunn and the sophomore duo of Abby DeBaillie and Katie Conway -- are continuing to make their presence felt in the lineup.

If Orion can continue to build on the gains it made during the 2012 portion of its schedule, than 2013 could be a very happy new year for McBride and his players when tourney time returns in early February.