RIPLEY – The main objective of any team during summer workouts is to just see steady improvement and to get better every day.  That was the goal at the beginning of summer workouts for the Ripley boys basketball team, and it’s safe to say that they delivered.  The Vikings and new head coach Evan Faulkner had the added task of implementing a new system and a new culture around the basketball program, and getting the players to buy in to the new system.  Once that was taken care of, Faulkner, who is in his first year as a head coach at any level, could concentrate on assessing his team.

“I think the biggest thing for us was just trying to figure out what we had, what our strengths were, what our weaknesses were,” Faulkner said, “We’re trying to do our best to get our culture established, to show them what it’s like to play in our system now compared to what it was before, and then go out and try to help them learn how to win games, but they’ve done well.”

The three-week open period has been a very busy one for the Vikings.  In addition to practices and weight training, they’ve taken part in several scrimmage shootouts around the area, testing their skills against some of their toughest conference opponents.  By all accounts, the Vikings have acquitted themselves quite well in these contests, holding their own against the likes of South Charleston, Riverside, and Parkersburg.  They even managed to defeat George Washington on two occasions this summer, a team that made it to the Class AAA state quarterfinals last season.  While their play has been encouraging, Faulkner knows his squad still has work to do.

“ I think we still have a long way to go,” Faulkner said, “It’s encouraging that we’re seeing progress.  Compared to the first part of the summer, I was disappointed with our effort a lot of times, I was disappointed with our level of toughness, but I feel like we’ve taken steps in all those areas.”

The cornerstone of Faulkner’s program is effort and toughness, as it is those qualities that separates the good teams from the great ones, and allows a team that is not as athletically gifted to go against teams that have more talent.  He and his staff have worked hard to drill the importance of these factors into their players, due to the fact that they compete in one of the toughest conferences in the state.

“We talk a lot about how we’re not going to have a lot of advantages over the teams we’re playing against,” Faulkner said, “We have to figure out a way to compensate for that, and you do that with your effort.  For us to be competitive in our conference and section, we’re going to have to be better in our discipline and handling pressure.  We’re going to play the South Charlestons, the Capitals, and the Riversides who are going to be much more athletic than we are, and we just have to get to where we can handle that and be disciplined and can still run our stuff and get what we want offensively.”

Without a doubt, Faulkner has been encouraged by his team’s development so far during the course of the summer workouts.  He feels confident that they have begun to buy in to the new system and that they will reap the rewards once the season does begin.

“I think the most encouraging thing is that they’re trying their best to buy in to what we’re selling,” Faulkner said, “Now, we’re not where we need to be to be competitive at the level we want to be, but again, we’ve been doing this for eight or nine weeks and it’s not an overnight process.  I think they’re really trying their best to do what we ask them to do.  It’s just new to them, so it’s going to take a little while, but it is encouraging that they’re trying their best.”

Now that the open period is drawing to a close, Faulkner and his team can look back at how far they’ve come, and also can now look forward to where they want to go.  After yesterday’s team shootout at Riverside High, the Vikings will now continue with workouts and drills for the remainder of the summer, ahead of the season beginning in November.  While that is still a long way off, the Vikings can focus on getting ready for live games, now that they have their foundation in place.

“In the early stages, we were trying to implement culture, and drills, and all that stuff,” Faulkner said, “But now they’re figuring out what we’re going to do, how we’re going to practice, and the intensity and energy we expect them to bring, so that really speeds things up to where the more we can get done in a shorter period of time, the more effective it is.”