Lonnie Hammond believes the improvements from the South Tama baseball and football teams will carry over into the winter basketball season.
Several of his players were on those teams and big reasons why they turned those programs around after disappointing past seasons. The baseball team improved from 3-30 to 15-14 during the summer. Then the STC football squad won two games in 2011, before just finishing the 2012 season 9-3 with basically the same team as the year before.
"You can take it back to track last spring," Hammond said. "They kind of got some momentum going. Then baseball kept it going and football gave it a huge boost this fall. You do carry that energy forward and you can't help but have it as a positive effect."
The third-year STC boys basketball coach went on to praise this year's squad, which hasn't even played a game yet.
"This is the best team that I've had since I've been here," Hammond said. "I believe that. It's not a reflection on the players that played before, but we're better. We're fundamentally better. We keep working on it. I think we have the opportunity to have a nice season. It's hard to define nice. Our top goal is to be above .500. You caveat that with if you can't be; then you need to be really, really competitive. That's where you end up with nice. Is it possible, as the season goes along, to go beyond that? Maybe, but time will tell that."
This winter, possibly before Christmas break, will tell if his vision is correct for this season. To improve upon last year's 1-21 record is something the Trojans hope to accomplish during the first couple of games this season.
"We were befallen by injuries," Hammond said. "Two starters went down on back-to-back games. They were not the type of injuries that only put you out a game. One, in effect, cost him his season. The other one, he was never fully healthy when he came back and that was eight weeks later.
"We were really young last year," he said. "The last game of the year, we started three juniors. There were some nights when one of the seniors was hurt and we started four juniors. Of those, only two of them had any varsity experience, so we were really young."
South Tama brings back two of its starters from last year. Seniors Sam Kuhter and Jose Fonseca are back for the Trojans. Kuhter averaged 11.0 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game last year, while Fonseca returns with an average of 9.4 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Trojans.
STC also returns five letterwinners from a year ago. Those seniors are Brad Evans, Taylor Johnson, Kaleb Davenport, Clay Waterbury and Daryl Bidwell.
"The nice part about this year is seven of our seniors played last year," Hammond said. "They got that experience a year ago. They have played significant varsity minutes as juniors and they are ready to go."
Another senior in the mix this year will be Vinny Lasley. He played part of last year at the Meskwaki Settlement School before coming to South Tama this year. He helped the STC football squad this fall as a tight end on offense and defensive end.
"Vinny's a pretty darn good athlete," Hammond said. "He's going to fit in very well and we'll be able to do some things with him."
Hammond believes his seniors will make the difference this year and they will turn the program in the right direction.
"Those three kids are all great kids and great leaders," Hammond said. "This senior class is unique in how close they are to one another. While you might say those are the leaders, any one of the players on any night will step up and be a leader."
The Trojans officially started practice on Nov. 12 and have been working hard in the gym each day. Like most teams, they have been reviewing the basic fundamentals, while implementing their offensive and defensive plays. Also, conditioning has been a part of the early season regimin.
"The first week is going very well," Hammond said. "If you're going to be a good team, no matter the sport, you need to get to a point in practice where you practice at a very consistent level. We've been consistent and we've improved a little bit each day. That's what we're looking for. I'm pleased with where we are at right now."
South Tama will start its season Nov. 27 at Grinnell. The girls varsity will start the night at 6:15 p.m., with the boys to follow around 7:30 p.m. The Trojans then play at Grundy Center on Nov. 30. Their home opener is Dec. 4 against East Marshall.
"Last year, 1-21 was tough," Hammond said. "But we got a lot of positives this year. I'm really looking forward to where I think we can get to."