Bulldogs shooting for another league title, more

Bulldogs shooting for another league title, more

Image Credit: Aaron Dorksen

Despite returning just one starter from last season’s Wayne County Athletic League boys basketball championship team, Dalton is off and running toward a three-peat.

One would have to spend a long time looking through WCAL record books to find when, and if, a team with just one starter back won the title.

When that returnee is senior Jalen Wenger, though, the sky’s the limit.

“I’m pretty pleased with where we are, but I’m still trying to find out who my team is, where we excel the most,” said third-year Dalton coach Kaleb Reed, who owns a 41-11 record leading the Bulldogs. “I know that we have good players, but how do we fit those pieces together?

“One of the big things we’re still looking for is some depth, and we’re starting to kind of find some players to help us off the bench. We have a really good, solid starting five. Those kids are phenomenal athletes, excellent basketball players as well as just great kids.”

The 6-foot-4 Wenger leads Dalton (4-1, 3-0) in scoring (25.4 ppg), rebounding (five), assists (two) and made 3-pointers (18) through five games.

The reigning WCAL Player of the Year is picking up where he left off after averaging 22.1 points a game as a first-team All-Ohio junior when Dalton finished with a 19-4 record and a Div. IV district runner-up.

However, it’s been hardly a one-man show.

Braylon Wenger, Jalen’s 6-5 junior brother, has moved into the starting lineup and put up nearly as impressive numbers: 16.2 points a game, five rebounds and 11 made 3s.

First-year senior starter Jaden Schlabach (5-11), along with juniors Quentin Lehman (6-1) and Kyrie Gaut (6-0), are averaging between six to seven points a game.

Top players off the bench have been sophomore Colin Pearson (5-11) and junior Braden Fiesler (6-3).

Dalton graduated two starters, and two other regulars opted not to play basketball as seniors, but the Bulldogs have remained strong. A 72-66 win over Norwayne on Dec. 10 established them as the team to beat once again.

Dalton’s only loss was a 65-61 setback against traditional Div. I power Mentor (3-0) during the Hall of Fame City Hardwood Classic at Massillon on Dec. 18.

“I think we’re in a good spot right now,” Jalen Wenger said. “There were a lot of unknowns coming into this season, losing two seniors that started (to graduation) and guys not playing. I think we’re off to a phenomenal start. We all play pretty well together, and it’s just been a lot of fun to this point.”

Any opponent’s scouting report will start and end with trying to slow down the Wenger brothers. For the first time, Jalen has played some point guard to go along with the wing spot he’s been accustomed to.

Braylon, who actually passed his older brother in height during the off-season, has been a force inside and on the perimeter.

Reed has been impressed with the Wenger brothers’ continued improvement.

“It’s a testament to how hard they work in the off-season,” Reed said. “Basketball is their sport, and they live and breathe it.

“A lot of people see the product on the court, but they don’t see the amount of hard work that goes into it day in and day out. Whether it’s with their schoolwork, on the court or in the weight room, they have really put in the work that’s needed to be successful.”

Reed knows full well what it’s like to play sports with a sibling. His older brother, Kyle, was a senior when he was a freshman at Northwestern. Then Kaleb was a senior standout when younger brother, Konner, was a sophomore.

“You can have some of the older brother-younger brother spats,” Reed said. “It’s been much better this year for Jalen and Braylon. They have a good respect for each other and what they’re able to do on the court. There have been times when Jalen has said, ‘Hey, Bray’s got the hot hand. Let’s get him the ball,’ and vice versa. That kind of unselfishness is what you want to see as a coach, and I don’t believe there’s one bit of a sibling rivalry. I think they complement each other really well.”

Braylon has always worked hard to keep up with Jalen and is enjoying every minute of playing a bigger role this season alongside him.

“I think we both improved in the off-season,” Braylon said. “Playing basketball together comes naturally. We’ve been doing it ever since we were little, and we’ve always had great chemistry together.”

The key to how far Dalton goes this season will likely be how well the total team chemistry comes together. The Bulldogs have been stopped in the district tournament the last two years and could be headed for another showdown with Richmond Heights (67-39 winner in last year’s district final).

“We have a lot of new faces from last year, but I think we’ve meshed well and we’ll all continue to grow together,” Braylon said.

Lehman (7.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Schlabach (6.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) transitioned from strong football seasons to provide Dalton rebounding muscle while Schlabach is quick enough to also help on the perimeter. Gaut (6.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg) has played well on the wing.

Asked if this team can go further in the tournament, Reed was hesitant to make any predictions yet.

“That’s the hope,” Reed said. “The potential is there, but that’s all it is right now is just potential. Last year’s team was very good by the end of the season. If we can continue to grow as a group — not just as individuals, but as a cohesive unit — I think they have a good shot.”

Aaron Dorksen can be emailed at aarondorksen24@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronDorksen.