As of this week, high school sports are finally back in action. But while they were on pause as the IHSA worked out its return to season plan, basketball fans could still follow alumni of Saint Viator High School playing—and starting in some cases—in the college ranks.
Take Connor Kochera ’20, who nearly single-handedly led his team at the College of William & Mary back from a nine-point deficit against Drexel, for a key win earlier this month in the Colonial Athletic Association in Philadelphia. His coaches credited his defense and free throw shooting, while Connor himself says he constantly looks for ways to up his game.
“The biggest adjustment for me has definitely been the speed of the game,” Connor says. “It’s definitely faster than high school but I think I’m adjusting to it well.”
In the Drexel game, Connor went 14-of-16 from the line, all coming in the game's final 17 minutes, and he scored a career-high 26 points to lead William & Mary’s comeback.
"He's really good driving the ball and initiating contact, so it's a little surprising he hasn't been (to the line) as much," said Head Coach Dane Fisher. "He is one of our better free throw shooters. His numbers to this point didn't indicate it, but 14-of-16, that'll help him."
One of the assistant coaches for the Tribe is Saint Viator alumni and former boys’ basketball head coach, Mike Howland ’98, who is excited about the direction of the team – and Connor’s play.
“We are excited about the direction our team is going,” Coach Howland says. “We have a very young team with three freshmen in the starting lineup, one of them being Connor Kochera.”
As a coach during this unusual season, Howland says the key is to remain flexible and be ready for any last-minute curveballs.
“At the end of the day, we prepare and practice just like we always do,” Howland says. “When the ball gets tipped, it’s the same game, it’s just a different environment with no fans in the stands.”
Treyvon Calvin ’19 is the starting point guard for the Wright State Raiders, who are currently ranked second in the Horizon League. While Trey’s season was interrupted in November, when he tested positive for the Coronavirus, he was able to come back and assume the role of starting point guard. Armed with a renewed determination to better his game from last year, he’s working on improving his three-point percentage and taking care of the ball.
“He’s shooting the ball a lot better,” Coach Scott Nagy said in a story for the Dayton Daily News. “He’s playing with a confidence that makes him the kind of player we thought he was.”
His former backcourt teammate, Jeremiah Hernandez ’19, was redshirted his freshman year at Kent State University in nearby Kent, Ohio. He now comes off the bench for the Golden Flashes, who are currently ranked fourth in the MAC with a 6-3 record overall and 3-2 in the conference.
Jerry made his own highlight reel with a steal and a dunk against Toledo back in early January, but he concedes the biggest adjustment is starting over as a freshman.
“No matter what we did in our careers prior to college, you have to be ready at all times to play at your best,” Jerry says. “In college everyone is a good player, so practices are much more competitive, and really everything you do you have to compete in.”
Myia Clark ‘18 and the St. Louis University Billikens have had a season shortened by the COVID virus. By mid-January, Clark and Billikens had only played three games, with more than one dozen contests postponed.
Clark, now a junior, played in all 32 games during her sophomore year. In the three games so far this season, she is a leading rebounder on the team and in assists, but she says it is a work in progress.
“One of the biggest adjustments I had to make playing at the college level is controlling what you can control,” Myia says. “I might not always have the best offensive day, but I know I can do other things that I can control, such as playing defense, rebounding, or making more hustle plays. I can control these things and they also impact the game as well.”
Peter Lambesis ’18 and his Illinois Wesleyan Titans returned to the court on Jan. 23 after their season was postponed due to COVID-19. Peter returned after being named co-most valuable player last year and on the second team for the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin.
“I'm very excited to start playing conference games,” Peter says. “We have a large portion of last year's team back for this season and we are projected to finish at the top end of our conference.”
Richard McLoughlin '10 is the director of strength and conditioning for the Dayton University women’s basketball team. Consequently, he handles every aspect of the ladies' performance, from strength and conditioning to nutrition, rehabilitation, and working with the head coach to determine practice design.
His Lady Flyers are picking up where they left off last year. After finishing as conference regular season and tournament champions in the Atlantic 10 last season, they are off to another strong start with a current record of 5-0 in the A-10.
“We have remained extremely optimistic and together throughout the entire pandemic,” Coach McLoughlin says, “which has allowed us to adapt to each new challenge that is thrown our way.”
Coach McLoughlin moved to the college ranks after serving as strength and conditioning director at Saint Viator from 2015-2017. While moving up to the college ranks has been demanding, he says his years as a student and coach at Saint Viator prepared him well.
“From time management to developing relationships, and so much more, I constantly go back to those lessons learned at Saint Viator,” Coach McLoughlin says.
Ricky Muench ’15 agrees. He started his first season as the director of basketball operations at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. In doing so, he reunited with Head Coach Stan Johnson, who has the Lions off to a 6-0 start in his first year as head coach. They currently are 6-4 and 1-1 in the West Coast Conference.
Muench worked with Coach Johnson back at Marquette—where Muench graduated in 2019 with a degree in mathematics—when Johnson was an assistant coach and Muench led the student managers.
As director of basketball operations, Muench handles everything from scheduling, gear, and travel, to overseeing academics and making some recruiting calls.
Prior to joining the Lions, Muench spent the shortened 2019-20 NBA season with the Milwaukee Bucks as a video and player development assistant.
“To have someone with high-level NBA experience join our staff, with a championship-caliber organization like the Milwaukee Bucks, will be a tremendous blessing to our staff and players,” Coach Johnson said. “Ricky is a star and we are fortunate to have him be a part of our program.”
While at Saint Viator, Muench played under Coach Howland and Coach Quin Hayes ’95, and he credits them with nurturing his desire to become a college basketball coach.
“That’s what Saint Viator does,” Muench says, “it connects you to good people and puts you in a great environment where you are able to grow and be successful in the real world.”