For The Daily News
POWERS - North Central Jets head coach Adam Mercier knows his team may be the envy of the Upper Peninsula this season. That tends to happen when you return every player from a team that made the Class D Final Four last season.
However, Mercier has something to say about that.
"We don't want to hang our lat on our laurels," he said. "We want to take what we had last year and work on our weaknesses. We're allowed to do that this year with the people we have coming back. We can focus on our weaknesses. We know we can get better."
Particularly, the Jets would like to get better defensively. The Jets have a deep and experienced group that doesn't have a problem scoring, but last season when the team fell to Tri-Unity Christian in the state semifinal, they were worn down by the tenacious defense of the Defenders.
"Our team defensive concepts have improved. Each individual has improved from last year on the defensive end," said Mercier. I think offense will come and different guys can step up at different moments and understand that sometimes less is more.
"The more we get concerned about box scores and postseason accolades, the worse off you are, and our guys are really focused on the team concepts. They understand that our team defense is going to keep us in games, especially against the good teams, even if we're struggling offensively. That maturity factor has improved on all our players. We're pushing the issue on that more this year, than last."
The Jets' starting five from last season; Rob Granquist, Josh Granquist, Trevor Ekberg, Travis Vincent and Caleb Martin all return, as do Andrew Estrada, Tyler Polfus, Zach Ryan and Eric Prestay.
In addition that group, the Jets add juniors Ryan Whitens and Devin Wodrazka and promising freshman Jason Whitens to the mix.
Vincent was an All-U.P. First Team selection last season and point guard Rob Granquist was an All-U.P. Second Team pick as a sophomore. Vincent averaged 15.5 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks as a junior.
Mercier points to his guards as one of the team's big strengths.
"Our guard play improved as the season went on last year and it allowed us to win some games that early in the year we might have lost. Our guards kept the ball in front of them on the defensive end, and protected it on the offensive end. We're looking for bigger things from them this year" he said.
"The inclusion of Estrada and Whitens into the mix this year makes our guard play deeper than last. Wodrazka will be a new guard this year as well."
But the Jets don't just have experience and skill working in their favor. They also boast four players that hover at or over the 6-4 mark.
"We're big," said Mercier. "Jason Whitens is 6-4, Caleb Martin grew a bit and Travis Vincent grew a bit. We have some height and we can extend the defense with guys posting up, and also on our defensive end, we can extend the floor a bit more also and use our height and athleticism to put defensive pressure on teams."
Even though the Jets appear to be clear U.P. favorites in Class D this season, Mercier isn't buying the hype.
"We don't want to believe the hype. We focused on that in the preseason. We just want to take it one game, one week at a time and try to improve. If after each week we have a winning record at the end, so be it," he said. "We need to focus on getting to that next level so by season's end we're clicking on full cylinders, because everyone has an even record come March 6."
"It's been a joy coaching them for four years. I hope all the hard work will equate to a really successful season."