The beginning and ending of the Fond du Lac boys basketball team's season could not have been much different a year ago.
The Cardinals lost seven of their first eight games and their first nine Fox Valley Association games. By the end of the season, they won four of their final six and gave Appleton West a battle in a regional semifinal loss.
"I think once we got to the end of the year we learned you have to believe and trust your teammates and ride on that," Fondy senior Tyler Kryzanowski said. "There was a lot of positive energy."
This year, Fondy is hoping to have that positivity right from the start of Saturday's season opening game against Racine Horlick.
Fondy coach Adam Zakos said success for his team begins with the mental aspect of the game.
"We talked to our guys a lot about winning the game on the six inch court between their ears," Zakos said. "Mentally being ready to go, whether it be practices, games, or off the court.
"We got in our way a few times, especially in the early part of the season. We're trying to learn from those situations and not repeat them."
And there are quite a few players back who have learned those lessons. Seven players on this year's roster started at least one game last season including 6-foot-4 forward Max Schebel, who averaged 12 points and six rebounds last year.
"Max is a very hard worker. He improves every day," Logan Wendt said. "He's definitely worked on his strength, his low-post game. Most importantly he's worked on his leadership. He'll be able to take over the game both offensively and defensively."
Wendt and Kryzanowski provide good size and athleticism on the wings, and junior Joe Schorse will run the point again. Wendt said its obvious how much more confidence Schorse has this year. Rounding out the expected starting five is 6-5 sophomore center Robert Windsor.
With just as much talent on the bench, Zakos isn't worried about where the scoring will come from.
"I think we're going to be a team that we're not going to have one guy that scores a lot of points. We can be pretty balanced," the seventh-year coach said. "I'm pretty confident whether it's our first five or the guys off the bench. It wouldn't surprise me if we have a different high scorer every night."
Fondy won conference championships seemingly with ease in the 1990s, but hasn't finished with an above-.500 FVA record since the 2007-08 season. The recent struggles haven't deflated the optimism of this year's team, however.
"I'd say my goal for our team is a conference championship," Kryzanowski said. "I believe we can do that."
Wendt added, "I think we can be at the top of the conference. We have a lot of talent. If we work hard and stay together we can do a lot of good things."