High School Sports

Joanna Chadwick: Andover trying to regain balance

No coach enters a football season expecting everything to go smoothly.

No matter how much preparation is spent during the offseason, sometimes players don't pan out, sometimes plays don't go as planned and sometimes injuries happen.

So coaches adjust.

Andover coach Mike Lee has had to adjust. And it hasn't been easy.

Andover, which moved up to Class 5A this season, is 1-3 after losing to Maize 7-3 on Friday. It lost its best player, Ben Croituru for the season to a knee injury in a loss to McPherson to open the season.

In Week 2 against Newton, the Trojans lost Caleb Windholz, their second-best player, in the second half. Jordan Ray, a two-way starter, didn't play because of injury, and Gavin Maloney was out with the flu.

Oh, and Andover lost that game after having a 22-point lead in the second half following a long delay due to lightning.

"It feels like November already," Lee said. "We've had enough tragedy for a lifetime. The great Shakespearean tragedy is playing out before us.

"... The football gods, they didn't screw around. They shot at the top. They took out the big ones."

Lee has searched for the right adjustments. Some have worked, some haven't.

After the McPherson game, the Trojans decided to limit the number of players who played offense and defense.

"People are getting exhausted, we need more to contribute," Lee said.

The problem was, with so many injuries — Croituru, Windholz and Ray are three-year starters — there was little experience. Only Jordan Jones had any varsity experience on defense in the second half.

"Clearly the McPherson/Ben (Croituru) hangover was still going on, and I think we lost our identity," Lee said."... I know I was guilty of it. I was searching. We were used to 'this is how we do things,' and we weren't that team anymore."

Platooning completely clearly didn't work, so Andover switched to a mix of some playing both ways amd some playing just offense or defense.

That meant more basic coaching with the inexperienced players. Lee said it wasn't a matter of dumbing down the play-calling, but a matter of teaching more.

But mostly, Lee believes his team needs leadership from him during this tough spell — Andover plays at Derby on Friday.

"Step one, we don't want to press the panic button," he said. "I have to find the time to be hard on them, and the time to joke around with them.

"The kids have to see we're not crumbling at the top. The kids have to have the confidence that we're making the best decisions for the team, and they can trust you."

The win against Valley Center on Sept. 17 helped.

"We really got an indication of what kind of team we are," Lee said. "You could see, it was developing. Yeah, I'd say it was a two-week process."

It's been an odd process for a coach who truly felt he had his team figured out heading into the season, a season of high expectations.

"There's been a lot of feeling our way and finding out who should be where and who should do what," Lee said. "Much more than I would ever have expected."

Rose Hill's rebound — Rose Hill started the season 0-2, but has rebounded nicely.

Not only did the Rockets beat Andale on Sept. 17 — the Indians were Class 4A's top-ranked team heading into that game — Rose Hill whooped Pratt 70-0 on Friday.

Even better than the wins is the improved play of the Rockets, specifically from running back LaQua Mayes and quarterback Derrick Decker.

Decker had more than 100 yards passing and rushing against Pratt.

Nearing 100 — Southeast's win over North on Thursday brought coach Gary Guzman one win from his 100th.

Guzman is 99-83 and ranks sixth among City League coaches in total wins.

Heights coach Rick Wheeler, whose team is 4-0, has 82 wins, putting him into ninth place.