Steve Crouse had high expectations for his Westminster Christian Academy boys basketball team at the beginning of the season.
The Lions have since lost multiple players due to injury, but they have not lost hope of a successful season.
This season, Westminster returned almost all of its players after advancing to the second round of the state tournament the past two years.
But the Lions started off the season on the wrong foot when two seniors went down with ACL injuries before and during the first game of the season against Bethlehem Christian Academy.
“Seniors and their leadership, just all the experience they bring, that kind of obviously hurt us, and it took away some of our depth,” Crouse said.
The Lions have a 5-4 record as of Dec. 10, but Crouse is most proud of his players for battling through the injuries and changes.
The true test for the team will come in the second half of the season when the Lions begin region games on Jan. 4.
Those games are critical if the team wants to make it to the postseason tournament.
In practice, Crouse has focused on creating a more physical court presence with his players.
“I don't think there's a game we played where we were not outsized in terms of just physical height and just big guys,” Crouse said. “So, we're trying to find ways to always be competitive on the court, to defend well, rebound well.”
In order to limit foul trouble and protect the players, the Lions have worked on shooting consistently from the perimeter as well. They have already seen that aspect of their game improve as players step up to replace injured players.
While the early injuries were disappointing, it has allowed younger players to figure out and improve their roles with the team while stepping up as leaders.
“These guys, they love the game,” Crouse said. “They love to play and they don't mind the work that goes into becoming a good basketball team.”
The Lions have seen small but crucial improvements even through the past couple weeks of play.
The team got better at the free throw line, indicating that the Lions have put more pressure on the opponents and caused foul troubles.
“One of the benefits of this first part of the preseason is getting a lot of our players varsity experience that didn't have a lot,” Crouse said. “That's been good in the nine games we played already.”
Aside from basketball skills, Crouse said that improving his players’ lives off the court is another goal of his. He’s been doing so since joining the program in 2019.
His role at Westminster has been a privilege because the school has a “double win” goal for its students’ lives.
“We want to win on the court for sure, but we want to win in life and do that by training these young men what it means to be a Christ follower,” Crouse said. “It's a privilege to be able to do it through the game of basketball because there's so much that the game of basketball teaches about how to live. They're not competing, but those are the two things that we focus on. We want to be excellent in basketball and we want to be excellent in life.”