Terrific turnaround for Mount Olive

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

Mount Olive season review

There wasn’t a bigger or more satisfying turnaround in Morris County basketball than what happened to Mount Olive. The Marauders jumped from a 4-21 to a 17-7 record largely due to the efforts of new coach Kevin Moore. The former Bayley-Ellard and County College of Morris coach installed a new run-oriented system that the Mount Olive players had to learn on the fly. Although they had quick exits in county and state play, it was a tremendously upbeat year for Mount Olive.

Senior leadership: The willingness of the seniors to embrace the program changes was paramount in Mount Olive’s success.

“Max Werner and Luke Heeman were very big in helping the kids buy into the new system,’’ Moore said. “They bought in immediately and set the tempo for the season.’’

Warner was a forward, who was among the leading scorers and handled the ball quite a bit. Heeman, the older of two tall brothers, was a rebounder and defender. Elvis Hodzic averaged 12 points a game and was a key rebounder for the Marauders. Morris Catholic transfer Francis Mancho took over the point guard duties in mid-season and gave the Marauders a lift in the second half of the season.

Highlights: The ultimate highlight was the Marauders’ capture of the American Division of the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference.

“It was the first ever championship of any kind in basketball for Mount Olive,’’ Moore said. “It was one of our goals. It was very big. We were also very happy with the turnaround from 4-21 to 17-7. It was great for them to experience that season and to be rewarded for all their hard work.’’

They also captured the Hopatcong Holiday Tournament against what would become a successful Roxbury team. The Gaels would beat them in the 8-9 Morris County Tournament game. The Marauders did get a preliminary round win against Boonton. Sparta ended their season in state play.

Hope for the future: There’s a lot for the Marauders to feel good about. Twelve players will be coming back next year. The younger Heeman brother Zach Heeman was a 6-foot-7, 230-pound freshman. Even if he doesn’t grow another inch, filling out his body and added experience will make him a better player. Justin Palanchi was a solid scorer and great on the free throw line (he hit eight consecutive free throws in two separate games). Jimmy Pastena, Rich Notillo, Adam Cassidy and Tyler McEvoy also saw a lot of varsity playing time and will be preparing for big seasons next year.

Offseason plans: Mount Olive may be the most ambitious teams in the county heading into the summer. The Marauders that aren’t involved in spring sports are already involved in weight training. Moore wants to spend the first month of the summer working with his team in the open gym, as many as four times a week. They will not look to go into a team camp this summer but they will seek experience in two very active summer leagues: Paterson Summer League and the Zoo Crew League in Newark.

“It’s the pace of play,’’ Moore said. “We want to take it to a whole other level. I want them to experience the style we are going to play with some very athletic teams. We want them to have a much more elevated confidence level.’’

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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