Oakridge basketball team battling adversity with four key seniors injured

By Jacob Arvidson

EGELSTON TOWNSHIP – Injuries can create havoc for even the best teams.

At the end of the 2015-16 season, the Oakridge boys’ basketball team seemed primed for a strong 2016-17 campaign. They Eagles, 16-6 last season, were bringing back four solid seniors, all battle-tested and experienced at the varsity level.

Oakridge star Brady Luttrull will miss a lot of the current season with an injury incurred during the recent football playoffs. Photo/Sherry Wahr

And then injuries took out those four standouts one by one, with three going down during the football season. The effects have been rough, and the players won’t start returning to the lineup until January.

A season-opening 14-point loss to next-door rival Orchard View, followed by a hard-to-swallow 15-point beating at the hands of North Muskegon, were clear indicators of how much Oakridge needs its four senior leaders.

“We miss them from a leadership standpoint, just that calmness,” said Oakridge Coach Tracy Ruel. “Our first game the other day, it was the jitters. I have four sophomores that are now having to step up and I have players that might have been seven, eight, nine, ten on the depth chart, who are now one, two, three, four.”

The trouble began during football season back in mid-October.

On Oct. 14, in a game against Montague, Garrison Curry, the basketball team’s 6-foot-6 big man, suffered a torn tendon in his thumb. Curry had a cast put on his thumb and finished the football season, but in basketball the thumb is a bit more important.

Garrison Curry – seen here defending in the paint against a Whitehall player last year – is also out with a football injury. Photo/Sherry Wahr

Curry averaged 3.5 rebounds per game last season and was poised for an even bigger role in the paint this year, but his thumb will make him wait.

“Getting a big rebound from Garrison at a key moment of the game, I’m just missing that,” Ruel said.

Two weeks later, the Oakridge football team was on its way to a 41-7 victory over Grant in the first round of districts. Suddenly Marcus Stewart was on the ground with an apparent knee problem.

It was his meniscus, an injury that could hold him out for at least five months.

“Marcus was going to be my athlete,” said Ruel, who describes Stewart as a defensive specialist. “He’s just athletic.  He gets up and down the floor really well.”

And then came arguably the biggest blow of all.

On Oct. 21, star quarterback Brady Luttrull was leading Oakridge in a regional final football game against defending state champion Ithaca.

“I was faking a hand-off, pulled it, and was running up the middle,” Luttrull said. “I got tackled by one guy and the next thing I know, someone else is coming diving in. And then I heard my leg snap.”

Oakridge coach Tracy Ruel, pictured on the bench last season, is trying to find the right lineup combinations with four key seniors injured. Photo/SHerry Wahr

It was his fibula, broken in three places.

“Obviously you’re in pain on the football field after being tackled, and you usually just shake it off, but there was no shaking this one off,” Luttrull said. “I knew it right away.”

Without Luttrull, the football team lost the game 47-6. And now the basketball team will have to do without its starting point guard and leading scorer, as well.

“On the ride to the hospital after the football game I started to think about basketball a little bit,” Luttrull said. “I was in shock.”

The Eagles will miss Luttrull’s 17.5 points per game and 4.5 assists from last year.

“Brady was my floor general,” Ruel said. “He was the leader. He was the coach that was out on the floor.

“He made two game-winning shots against Mason County last year. When I needed a tough shot last year, he was the one who was taking the tough shot. He wanted the ball in his hands.”

The defensive specialist: gone. The leading rebounder: gone. The leading scorer: gone. But then the situation got even worse.

With Stewart, Curry and Luttrull already out, the Eagles were turning to 6-foot-2 shooting guard Morgan Meinders to lead the way through the adversity. Meinders had averaged eight points per game down the stretch last season and was ready to take the leadership role with his fellow seniors absent.

But two days before the first game of the season, Meinders suffered a dislocated finger in practice, sidelining him for two to four weeks.

Ruel has had to make do.

“I have to coach differently this year until I get my team back,” Ruel said. “With the four seniors, they’ve got game experience. When they saw a backdoor cut, or they saw a play that we were running and somebody was cheating and overplaying it, they could adjust to it on the fly. I’m having to do a lot more of setting up plays or calling that play.”

The situation has been tough on the four injured seniors, as well. They’ve had to sit and watch as their team tries to forage on without them.

“It’s been tough sitting and watching them practice and not doing anything for two hours straight,” Luttrull said. “And then watching them struggle against Orchard View killed me.”

Despite the team’s current challenges, Ruel sees some silver lining, because young players are getting important game experience that will pay off down the road.

“It’s good because now a lot of our young guys are getting huge minutes,” the coach said. “At the end of the season when I get these four guys back, we’re going to be pretty tough. I have a lot of confidence in us going down to the end of the season.”

The troubling times will begin to end in January. The Eagles expect Meinders back for the Montague game on January 3. A week or two later they expect to welcome Curry back into the fold. And then a week or two after that, Luttrull will make his highly-anticipated return.

Only time will tell with Stewart, but Ruel hopes his defensive specialist can be back for districts, he said.

Oakridge will play four games before January, beginning with Grand Rapids Covenant Christian on December 13, followed by Hart, Spring Lake and Ludington.


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