The future is now for the Cotter High School boys basketball team.
The Ramblers, who beat Kingsland 61-46 to win the Bracket A division of the 20th annual Ace Communications/Midwest Wireless Warrior Club Holiday Basketball Tournament Wednesday night at McCown Gym, are off to a 7-2 start this year.
That comes as no surprise to a program that's used to winning. The surprising part of the success is the youth of this year's team.
Coach Mike Costello starts only one senior (forward Jake Bauer), along with three juniors (guards Sam Blank and David Leaf and center Jeff Gilbertson) and a sophomore (Patrick Bowlin).
One might think that the Ramblers are building for the future, but that's not the case. There are only four seniors on Cotter's roster, including Joe Kohner, the team's starting point guard last year who's still on crutches with a stress fracture in his right foot that he suffered in football.
"The senior class isn't huge," Costello said after Wednesday's win. "Our juniors and sophomores play football, basketball and baseball. It's a group that likes sports. There's a good feeling around school these days. It's nice to have high expectations.
"In basketball, we should be very good next year. But you never know with injuries. We should be good this year. We have a good chance to win our sub-section. Hopefully, we can get it done."
Cotter gets it done this year with balance. Bowlin, who started as a freshman last year, scored 22 points, Gilbertson added 17 and Blank finished with 16 in a 64-52 win over Plainview in Tuesday's semifinal. In the title game, Bauer, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, came up big with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Blank (14) and Gilbertson (10) also hit double figures. Leaf, who's filling in for Kohner at the point, added seven assists, and junior Brian Huegel came in to chip in eight points, including a pair of key 3-pointers.
The Ramblers also get help off the bench from sophomores Thomas O'Brien and Andy Wolfe, along with seniors Chris Wolfe and Tyler Malin.
Success has followed this group ever since they were in middle school. Bowlin, O'Brien and Andy Wolfe were part of an eighth-grade team that won a state title. The group of juniors also won its share of games prior to varsity.
When Blank transferred from Winona High over the summer, Costello felt he had the final piece to his puzzle.
"When I looked at our roster after last year, the only thing we were missing heading into this season was a pure shooter," Costello said. "He's a great scorer. He's a very coachable player. He's a very solid all-around player and scorer."
With all the youth comes some inexperience in pressure situations. But so far this year, Cotter's young team has handled everything very well.
"We've struggled in some situations," Costello said. "But they're coming around. One thing I can say is they play hard every night."