The Saint Ignatius Wildcats turn the calendars to the new year with a record of 5-4. While the record looks average on paper, the Cats must be happy with their performance. As has become accustomed for a varsity Saint Ignatius team, the opponents are not to fret about, with games against state and nationally-ranked teams provided a challenge so far. The Wildcats' two in-state losses were to the #12 and #22 teams in the Buckeye State and the #4 teams in Texas Oak Cliff Faith Family and California powerhouse Saint Augustine.
The offensive charge is led so far by junior Ace Buckner. Buckner paces the team in most offensive categories, scoring the most points per game (13.2), dishing out the most assists per contest (3.9) and taking the most two-point and three-point shots per match. The offense runs through the junior guard, who excelled during the Wildcats' trip to Las Vegas, NV, earning Platinum Division all-tournament honors while averaging 14 points, four rebounds and five assists.
Another junior who got his game going while the Wildcats were out West was Reece Robinson. Robinson had games of 13 and 15 points, increasing his scoring average to 7.2 points per game. Fellow junior Sam Springer was inserted into the lineup mid-season and has kept his spot with physical defense and the ability to stretch the floor with his jump shot.
In the junior heavy roster, the class of 2023's impacts is often overshadowed by the younger generation. Braydn Szczepaniak is a model of consistency, always coming through for the team with a momentum-turning hustle play or a clutch bucket, as seen with his game-winning layup with three seconds left against Coronado (NV). Junior Carter Jackson is always reliable in getting a basket and is increasing his rebound and assist numbers.
Off the bench, junior guards Jack Zapolnik and Matt Ellis play a considerable role in giving the team a spark. Both are phenomenal from beyond the arc, with Zapolnik shooting at a 50% clip and Ellis averaging one three a game. Sophomore Damon Friery has also shown flashes of brilliance, being second on the team in points per game (9.6), highlighted by a 19-point performance against Villa Angela-St. Joseph. Senior Tristan Marshall has also helped dominate the paint with the second-most blocks on the team and the highest field goal percentage.
Juniors Sean Martin and Mike Lamirand are defensive specialists who come in to stop the opposition's best players at the end of games. Owen Maruca provides depth in the paint and experience as a starter in last season's playoff run.
The road ahead gets no easier, with a rough upcoming stretch of opponents when the Cats take on Saint Vincent-Saint Mary, Saint Edward and Mentor. As we saw last season, however, the regular season is just the pre-cursor and it is all a lead-up to the postseason.