| Muncie Star Press
SELMA, Ind. — Standing off to the side of practice as the echoes of yelling coaches and dribbling basketballs reverberate off the walls of Wapahani’s gym, there’s no place senior Blake Castor would rather be.
“It’s awesome, it really is,” Castor said. “Obviously it’s been a crazy year and it’s not going to be the same this year but I’m just happy that we’re here and we’re getting together and playing basketball again. That’s what it’s all about, really to me, is just getting back and playing the sport I love.”
Last season, Wapahani was one of five area teams, and 64 across the state, that saw its postseason run come to an end following its sectional championship victory. The Raiders would finish the 2019-20 basketball season with a 20-5 record, their best since they went 22-2 in 2014.
Four starters from that team — Tre Spence (16.4 points), Drew Luce (14.4 points), Evan Rausch (11 points) and Braxton Davis (10.4 points) — have graduated. Castor, along with fellow seniors Caleb Henderson, Justin Rahe and Walker Cook are now the leaders on this team that will rely heavily on the play of several underclassmen this season.
It’s not going to be easy replacing the leadership and production that those seniors brought last season. Matt Luce, who’s entering his 14th season as Wapahani’s coach, knows that. But what Luce also knows is that he has players and coaches eager to step up to the challenges that this season will present both on the court and off.
“That’s being a program,” Luce said. “We feel like we have a good program and kids that grow up watching other kids play at Wapahani. They want to be like them and it’s those guys’ turn.”
In some ways, this will be a reloading year for the Raiders, who will lean on sophomores Alden Mahaffey and Aidan Franks along with freshman Isaac Andrews just as much as their returning seniors.
And Luce said that guys in 6-foot-3 Castor and 6-foot-5 Henderson, while they weren’t among the team’s leading scorers on last year’s sectional championship team, played “championship roles” by being the best rebounders and defenders. Henderson led the team in blocks (1.4) and rebounds (6.4). This season also brings the reemergence of Rahe, who played in just six games last season before sustaining an injury.
“We’ve got four seniors this year that have kind of waited their turn, played different roles and now it’s their turn,” Luce said. “… Then we’ve got some really nice young players and some really nice young men that we feel like are going to grow up quick and be thrown into the mix.”
As much as any team in East Central Indiana, Wapahani has proven to be a team that can succeed year in, year out. Since Luce took over the head coaching position in 2007, the Raiders have yet to have a losing season.
And, as if he needed any extra motivation coming into a year faced with uncertainties, Castor said he has heard rumblings of people who think that Wapahani isn’t going to “be as good” without the four seniors from a season ago.
“We’ve kind of got a chip on our shoulder,” Castor said. “… (I’ve) wanted to kind of get the guys fired up to get a season, go out and keep winning and show what we’re made of, that we can go far.”
While Luce said a lot of the younger players will have to “learn on the fly,” as the season prepares to get underway, he’s confident that they’ll be able to do so.
From a leadership standpoint, Castor said he’s trying to get this team as close as last year’s team was because, if they are, they’ll be able to succeed. On the court, Castor said he’s has been impressed and is excited to see what the underclassmen will bring to the table.
“It’s been really surprising how good they’re doing and how hard they work,” Castor said. “That’s the biggest thing for me because a lot of them work really hard and want to make a difference for this program. It gets me excited for what the future has in store for us.”