By Dan Hardenbrook

Step on the Engadine Eagles basketball court and you’d better be ready to battle. Young, often outsized, sometimes overlooked, the Eagles plan to catch everyone’s attention not with what they do, but how they do it.

“We lost a lot of experience, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing,” says Eagles Head Coach Joe Brownson.

He knows that high turnover in players leads only to opportunity, and with several key roles to fill he sees his team already battling and fighting for their spot. The Eagles lost big men like Zach Hoadley and Derek Schroeder from last year’s team, which means more minutes and more opportunity for players like brothers Myles and Nick Ehn. Combo guard Mikka Luoto is also gone, which is certainly a loss, but could translate into a gain with the emergence of junior David Parker and freshman Teegan Masters.

It’s a new look, full of new opportunities that lead to newfound optimism for the 2023-2024 season.

“The guys have been great. They are really battling out there. They are starting to gel. We just have to put the pieces together,” said Brownson.

Growth and improvement will be key for the Eagles this season, and it’s happening. In last Tuesday’s season opener, the Eagles, who were shorthanded and outmanned, got overwhelmed early by pressure and quick play in a 49-14 loss to Superior Central. Players quickly became discouraged. Some even asked to come out. But as they say, sometimes the fall is greater than the climb.

The Eagles only had one choice, stick it out—together—and come back battling in their next game. They did that. They hung tough against Pellston Hornets in a game that became a shootout.

Again at a point of adversity, Brownson took a time out and challenged his guys. “We have to keep fighting!” he told them. “We have to want to work. I’m not mad and I don’t have a problem with what you are doing. What I want to see is HOW you do it!”

The Eagles responded, charging back from 15 points down to tighten the game before halftime. And when Pellston put together another quick run to start the third, the Eagles battled back again. Soon it was the Hornets who looked flustered. Soon they were the ones wanting a break. It was their Coach turning his anger to the officials, trying to swing the momentum. And even though they won 54-37, the Hornets were more than happy to get on the bus with a night that Engadine made way harder than it had to be.

The Eagles almost broke through Monday. Again they improved, going wire-to-wire with Mid Pen before falling in the finals seconds 44-35.

In their first three games, the Eagles cut their losing margin in half twice. Parker and Masters have emerged as playmakers providing a spark. Jackson Oven has added extra depth as a split squad player with key roles on both the JV and the Varsity. Vern Loebach has become a more confident shooter, and soon could be the catch-and-shoot threat similar to graduated player Luke Germain.

When things took a turn for the worst in the opening two games, 8th graders Nate Stielstra and Coleman Loebach held their own despite their age. When Stielstra checked in for the very first time against Superior Central, Brownson asked if he was ready. Stielstra stopped dead in his tracks, looked at his coach and declared: “Oh I’m definitely ready!”

Eagles fans should be, too.