Entering his seventh year as Marion Warriors head basketball coach, Jeff McMillin is cautiously optimistic about the program he’s building.
“I guess we’re starting to get to the baby stages of maybe having some sort of legacy here,” he said.
Legacy is a sports buzzword, and at Marion High School, the word “legacy” typically calls to mind Grant Thierolf’s 27-year tenure as head football coach. By comparison, McMillin would be at the baby stages.
As for how this year’s team will perform, McMillin gets more optimism from Thierolf’s squad. The football program lost the same graduating class as the basketball team, eliciting some of the same questions: Who will lead? Do they have the size? Do they have the skill?
The football team went 6-3 in the regular season and notched a district championship.
“It’s very similar,” McMillin said. “And you know what, they had a good football season. So I’m hoping the guys can replicate out here.”
McMillin knows his young team has a lot to learn.
“We’ve been blessed the last couple years with a lot of upperclassmen,” McMillin said. “Those guys have filtered through and so what we’re left with is not a lot of guys with a lot of experience.”
Taking the responsibility of senior leadership will be Jacob Baldwin and Bret Voth.
“They’re three-year varsity players,” McMillin said. “They’re our leaders vocally and by example as well. They’re doing a real good job of mentoring the younger guys now and showing them how things need to be done because frankly they just don’t know.”
Listed at 6-foot-4, Jacob Baldwin is the tallest player for the Warriors, with junior Nicholas Stuchlik the only other player above 6-foot-1.
Without imposing size and a ton of varsity experience, it will come down to effort for the Warriors this season.
“To have any chance at all, we’re really going to have to play hard and be feisty and compete,” McMillin said. “They’re making steps toward getting there.”
Along with the two seniors, Stuchlik and Dylan Pippin are the only upperclassmen. The varsity team has three sophomores, Mason Pedersen, Peyton Heidebrecht, and Nathan Baldwin; and three freshmen, Jack Schneider, Zachary Stuchlik, and Colin Williams.
McMillin said with such a young team, his style of coaching this year has included a heavier emphasis on teaching than on repetitions.
“They’re responding real well,” he said. “They’re listening and they’re learning and they’re practicing pretty hard.”
McMillin said his only goal is for the team to improve.
“It’s not something where in past years we’ve been way more ahead of the game than where we’re at right now, and we’ve maybe set some loftier goals,” he said. “Really, what we want to do right now is just get better every day.”