Boys Basketball: Close-knit Worthington Kilbourne Wolves enjoying success

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
Mitchell Abahazie is part of a seven-player rotation that helped Kilbourne to records of 16-4 overall and 12-2 in the OCC-Capital entering the week. The Wolves, who won their first OCC title, are seeded eighth for the Division I district tournament and open the postseason Feb. 26.

According to Worthington Kilbourne boys basketball coach Tom Souder, the seeds of the Wolves’ success this season were planted in the summer. 

When offseason workouts began in June, the team had to adjust to the restrictions in place because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The Wolves weren't allowed to play five-on-five at first and originally had to practice in groups of four, but they acclimated without a hitch. 

“They’ve bought into the process. We did skill work and just tried to get guys to become better players, and they bought into that,” Souder said. “Then when we were able to go into groups of six, we played a lot of three-on-three, and you could see the improvement happening in front of your eyes. They came in and worked and they asked for extra workout times. I couldn’t have been more proud of them throughout the whole COVID stuff.”

After finishing 11-12 last year, the Wolves were 16-4 overall and 12-2 in the OCC-Capital Division after defeating Westerville North 63-58 on Feb. 20. The victory clinched the first OCC title in program history. 

Kilbourne is seeded eighth in the Division I district tournament and opens the postseason with a second-round home game Feb. 26 against 21st-seeded Upper Arlington or 23rd-seeded Walnut Ridge. Those teams played their first-round game Feb. 23.

The second-round winner plays fifth-seeded Olentangy Liberty, 35th-seeded Teays Valley or 36th-seeded Dublin Scioto in a district semifinal March 3 at the home of the better seed.

“I’m really happy for them, they’ve just taken care of business,” Souder said. “We’ve won some tough games.”

Through 17 games, Kilbourne was averaging 59.4 points while limiting opponents to 43.2. Souder said the Wolves have been moving the ball, contributing to their offensive proficiency. 

“(Our ball movement) makes us really hard to guard,” he said. “(We have) great ball movement and people movement, and that leads to offensive success.”

Souder said the Wolves’ offense starts with point guard Cayden Dougherty, whom he calls “the engine that drives the train.” Dougherty was leading Kilbourne with 123 assists through 17 games, averaging 7.2 per contest. 

“The way he pushes (the ball) really gets things going,” Souder said.  

Dougherty’s command of the offense creates opportunities for the team’s two leading scorers, Ian Schupp and Travis Mecklenburg. 

Schupp was averaging a team-high 17.8 points through 17 games, and he also was the leading rebounder with 141, an average of 8.3 per contest. 

“Ian’s a handful for everybody,” Souder said. 

Mecklenburg was averaging 13.2 points was second in rebounds with 119 (7.0 average).

“Travis has just had a phenomenal year,” Souder said. 

Schupp said the Wolves have strong chemistry, with each player adhering to his responsibilities on the floor and being in sync with his teammates. 

“Everyone on our team has a pretty specific role,” he said. “And it’s not like coach Souder gave us these roles; just as the season has progressed we fit deeper and deeper into what we do. No one tries to do more than what they should and we really just play very well together as a team.” 

“This year’s team is the most unselfish team I’ve ever played on,” Mecklenburg said. “The number of shots one person gets doesn’t matter to us at all, we just want to win.” 

Mecklenburg said the Wolves’ chemistry has a lot to do with familiarity. Seven of their 13 players are seniors – including Dougherty, Mecklenburg and Schupp – and they’ve been playing with one another for years. 

“We have the biggest senior class this year that we’ve had in a while, so that has been very helpful,” Mecklenburg said. “Our large senior class has been essential to our great year so far, and our class has been playing together for a long time, which helps a lot.” 

Junior Ayden Parsons, who was averaging 9.8 points, has been tasked with the Wolves’ toughest defensive assignments, a responsibility he handles well, according to Souder.

Souder said other members of the Wolves’ seven-player rotation include seniors Mitchell Tomasek, Brian Wilson and Mitchell Abahazie. The Wolves have been using the seven-player rotation following the loss of junior Luke Wolford to injury. 

Souder said Tomasek, who missed time earlier because of injury, provided a spark upon his return. 

“He’s getting close to being back to his form last year. Having him back and healthy is like, ‘holy cow,’ ” Souder said. “(With Tomasek back) we have three 6-(foot-)5 guys, and a lot of people don’t have that.”  

Parsons said the Wolves’ unselfishness will help in their pursuit of a district title. 

“No one is focused on getting their shots, we’re focused on getting the best shots,” he said. “Defensively, we’ve played really well and still continue to improve as the season progresses. 

“We expect to compete for a district title and make it far in the tournament. We believe we can compete with anyone in the state.” 

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve