Four of the top five rebounders for Transylvania's basketball men are seniors.
And still getting better.
Just in time. Coach Brian Lane sees rebounding as a key when the Pioneers meet Hanover in Friday's semifinals of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament at Terre Haute, Ind. Hanover swept the regular-season series, 69-64 on its home floor Jan. 9 and 73-70 at Transy on Feb. 13. The Panthers outrebounded Transy by a combined 75-59.
Focused on boards, Lane has a new twist in practice.
"It's funny," he said. "We figured out that our guys didn't like the rebounding drill because they like each other so much. They didn't want to hit each other as hard as they needed to hit. So we just put a pad on each one of them so the guys could go as hard as they want to. ... It took us three years and five-sixths of a season to figure out how to get them to do something from a rebounding standpoint to get better."
Brandon Rash, a 6-foot-3 senior from Montgomery County and second on the team with 5.7 boards a game, likes the drill.
"It's helped, just being more physical with each other," he said. "Not playing 'brother-in-law ball,' as Coach Lane likes to call it, helps us."
Already with back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 2005-06, the Pioneers (20-6) need to beat Hanover for consecutive 21-win seasons for the first time since 1998-99, when Lane's father, Don, was coach.
"I think we match up well," said Barrett Meyer, a 6-2 senior out of Franklin County. "We feel like we're the better team. They got the best of us at their place; we just dug ourselves into too deep of a hole.
"We feel like we played the better game here. We just didn't make the plays down the stretch that we needed to. Really, everything runs through their point guard, Tim Bass. So we feel like if we slow him down, we can slow their team down, which I know we're capable of doing."
Bass used his quickness to score 16 points in the Panthers' first win, 25 in the game at Transy.
The winner of Friday's game will meet Defiance or top-seeded Rose-Hulman for the HCAC title Saturday at 7 p.m., with an automatic bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament at stake.
A year ago, Transy was the top seed, only to fall in the conference finals and then again in the first round of the NCAA to end up 23-5.
Rash says the Pioneers are hungry to go deeper into the post-season this time.
Lane sees that as possible, thanks to a balanced attack and a team that seems to be hitting its peak.
Although Transy is seeded third in the tournament, a rugged non-conference schedule has helped make it the HCAC's top-ranked team in the NCAA Midwest Region. Lane thinks he has "the best team that's still in the tournament, even though Hanover's clipped us twice."
Ethan Spurlin, a 6-4 senior out of Lincoln County, leads with 16.1 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. Rash and Meyer each average 14.4 points. Freshman Parker Stansberry adds 9.6 points and junior Tate Cox is at 7.7.
"We feel like we're finishing with some of our best basketball. A lot of teams can't say that," Lane said. "And the bench the last couple games — (Nick) Fudge and (Tommy) Sirkin and (Taylor) Botkin, those three in particular — has been really solid."
Botkin, a 6-1 senior out of Lexington Catholic, contributes 3.4 points and 2.9 rebounds.
Fudge, a senior, and Sirkin, a sophomore, are generously listed at 5-9. They combine for 2.8 points a game and are affectionately known to teammates as The Rat Pack.
"Forbidden from roller-coaster rides, but not forbidden to wreak havoc on the basketball court," Meyer said with a smile. "Our bench has stepped up big-time."
All Pioneers plan to do likewise Friday.
At Terre Haute, Ind.Friday's semifinals
6 p.m. — Transylvania (20-6) vs. Hanover (17-8)
8 p.m. — Defiance (16-10) vs. Rose-Hulman (22-3)
7 p.m. — Semifinal winners meet for automatic bid to Division III NCAA Tournament
Transylvania's probable starters
Player PPG RPG Other
Ethan Spurlin 16.1 7.6 53.3 FG pct.
Brandon Rash 14.4 5.7 3.0 APG
Barrett Meyer 14.4 3.2 45.4 3pt. pct.
Parker Stansberry 9.6 3.6 81.3 FT pct.
Tate Cox 7.7 2.5 2.1 APG
NCAA Division III Midwest Region rankings
1. Illinois Wesleyan5. Transylvania
2. Washington (Mo.) 6. Rose-Hulman
3. Wheaton (Ill.) 7. St. Norbert (Wis.)
4. North Central (Ill.) 8. Augustana (Ill.)
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229 Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com