The Stevensville High School boys basketball team is having a season of improving, rebuilding and reaching for the win.
Coach Nate Fry said the team representing Jacket Nation is filled with great kids.
“The group of kids we have right now are hard workers but have struggled since they were freshmen,” Fry said. “Unfortunately they are not winning. It’s been a struggle but I’m working to help them improve, grow and have fun.”
Fry said the expectation to win is a lot of pressure as the Yellowjackets won the Class A state tournament in 2013.
“Despite the fact that we haven’t won we’ve been extremely close in a lot of games,” Fry said. “For a team who hasn’t won a game we’ve been within striking distance. We are looking at the positives for the most part and the kids have been extremely competitive.”
Fry said the team does receive some criticism from the outside.
“There are a million armchair quarterbacks that say ‘just do it this way and it will solve your problems’ but it doesn’t work that way,” Fry said. “It’s a great bunch of kids, we’re just not quite where we need to be. Hopefully soon we’ll get those scores where we want them to be.”
The last two Jacket Nation big losses were against the two best teams in the state and Fry said he and the team are looking to get back on the right track and win.
There are six seniors on the team and four have been starters every game on a rotation basis. As is typical in smaller schools, active students are involved in a wide variety of clubs, organizations and outside activities. Other commitments infringe on the team including 4-H, music, illnesses and injuries.
Fry said one of the team leaders is senior Tanner Pendergast.
Fry also gave a shout out to freshman Kellen Beller, who has started on the varsity team all year.
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“He is very athletically gifted and a very hard worker,” Fry said. “He is averaging 10 rebounds and 14 points a game. His rebound average is one of the top in Class A. He’s doing a real good job for us. You don’t expect a freshman to come in and get those numbers, it’s a good surprise. He’s been a real positive and exceeded expectations.”
Athletic Director Eric Larsen called Beller an excellent student.
“He’s a positive influence on our team and in our school,” Larsen said. “He’s a three sport athlete — football, basketball and he will do track. He’s also committed to his academics and contributing to the positive culture of the high school.”
This is Fry’s first year as head coach of the Yellow Jackets. For the first 14 years of his career he was coaching basketball then took time off to be the high school athletic director. With his move to the assistant principal position at the Stevensville Middle School, he is happy to get back to coaching.
“It was not possible to coach in the high school as the AD so with that change I was able to apply to be basketball coach and lucky enough to get the job,” Fry said.
This year, the team started the season with 21 athletes but is down to 18 currently due to injuries and other reasons. That decrease reduced the high school to just freshman and varsity teams, no JV team this year.
Fry said there is interest in basketball at the lower grades but not so much in the high school, a trend he sees across the board in a few different sports.
He also keeps the optimism for improvement and wins of the varsity boys basketball team.
“I’d like to be the coach that is undefeated but that’s not what it is all about,” Fry said. “The kids are improving despite the pressure and they are battling that all the time. These kids have nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Fry said the team puts in the effort to build skills and teamwork.
“The important thing is the kids in our program work really, really hard and they try hard to represent their school and community well,” he said. “That is not always reflected on scoreboard but their efforts are valued and we are all proud of them.”
The first win is ahead and Fry hopes the gym is filled with enthusiastic spectators and loyal Jacket Nation fans when it happens.