Three games into the varsity careers of every single player on his squad, long-time successful coach Chris Zwettler sees progress, even if it's not as quickly as he once hoped.
The first-year head coach of the first-year varsity program at Saint Ambrose in Madison watched his game but height-deprived team battle a well-coached Cambria-Friesland squad for all 36 minutes Monday before falling 50-38 in the non-league contest at Saint Maria Goretti Grade School on the far westside of the city.
Zwettler, who owns more than 500 victories during his long coaching career that included 33 years at Edgewood High School in Madison, was hired last May to build the program at Saint Ambrose from the ground up.
And although the Guardians slipped to 0-3 Monday, Zwettler believes his team in growing before his very eyes.
"We've gone from 25 turnovers our first game to 20 turnovers our second game and 15 tonight," Zwettler said. "This has been a slow process. These guys have now played three varsity basketball games and we all have to remember that. It's not an excuse, it's just a fact.
"We are asking our kids to do individual work, learn our system and exert effort and energy all the time. It's going to take time, but I thought we played well on defense tonight and gave ourselves a chance to win with two minutes left."
Saint Ambrose fell behind by double digits in the second half after entering intermission on the short end of a 25-21 score. But the Guardians rallied and cut the margin 44-38 on a baseline three-point basket by senior Paul Emmel (5-9) with 2:04 left.
However, Saint Ambrose did not score another point and Cambria-Friesland salted the game away from the foul line to improve to 2-1.
Carter Drews, 6-0, Jr., G, Cambria-Freisland
The Hilltoppers had three players finish in double-scoring figures, including Drews, who scored the majority of his 13 points in the first half on mid-range jump shots. One of four juniors in the Cambria-Friesland starting lineup, Drews opened his scoring with a three-point basket before using his physical strength and aggressiveness to get close to the basket and then rise up for mid-range jumpers. "Carter has developed his mid-range game and also now can go outside the three-point line and score," Cambria-Friesland coach Derrick Smit said. "He's a good athlete with strength and we needed that tonight because Saint Ambrose had some very physical kids who played very hard." Drews currently leads the Hilltoppers in scoring (13.3 ppg), rebounding (7.3 rpg) and assists (3.0 apg).
Saint Ambrose had taken a 15-13 lead with 7:18 left in the opening half when Smit decided to call a timeout and make a change. Opting to switch from a man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone, Smit's decision proved to be the difference in the game as Saint Ambrose struggled to get good looks the rest of the way. When the Guardians managed to have a shot opportunity, they had a hard time finding the bottom of the basket, especially from three-point range. Smit, in his 19th season as the Hilltoppers' head coach, says his teams usually play an assortment of defenses, although man-to-man has been their bread-and-butter so far this season. "I wanted to see what it looked like with them going up against a zone," Smit said. "Over the years, I've always mixed it up a little bit. I think our zone kind of got them off balance. In the second half, they wanted to get the ball to the middle, but we made an adjustment to take away their strengths. I thought we were able to pressure very well out of the 2-3 tonight."
Carson Burmania, 6-3, Jr., F, Cambria-Friesland
With Drews and junior Ashton Brusveen (6-2) doing most of the scoring in the first half, Burmania entered the lockerroom at the midpoint of the contest scoreless and a bit frustrated. But the returning starter from a year ago got things together in the second half, using his length and skill to get into open spots against the Guardians' man-to-man defense. He finished the contest with 11 points. "Carson was frustrated at half, but he did a good job of settling in during the second half. He got to the free-throw line right away in the second half and seeing the ball go through the hoop helped him. He felt a little more confident from that point on."
"For early in the year, there were times we settled in and ran a good set. And then there were times when we weren't patient and took a quick shot." -- Cambria-Friesland coach Derrick Smit
Saint Ambrose, a former coop partner with Abundant Life Christian, started three seniors and two juniors against Cambria-Friesland and has 17 players in its program, grades 9-12 ... The Guardians are playing an independent schedule this season, but could possibly find a home in the Trailways Conference in the future ... Emmel led Saint Ambrose with 12 points, but he suffered through a subpar shooting performance from outside the three-point arc ... Joining Emmel in the starting rotation Monday were seniors Joseph Marsland (6-1) and Joe Schmiesing (5-10) along with juniors Jacob Sturm (6-0) and Anthony Lyons (6-2) ... The Guardians plan to play all home games at Saint Maria Goretti this year and next year before moving home games to their campus at Holy Name Heights for 2025-26.