New Panthers fitting right in
Moving to a new school in the middle of your high school career can be tough.
Having a group of friends and good basketball team waiting there for you makes it a whole lot easier.
Mt. Pleasant Community High School had three transfer students this year who knew the Panther basketball players coming in, and have now become a part of a state-qualifying basketball team.
Brant Shelman, a senior, came from WACO; Faith Pope, a senior, came from Ottumwa; and Brandon Sanchez, a junior, came from Danville.
Both Pope and Shelman have found themselves in starting roles for the Panthers for most of this season.
“I like the added role; I feel like I can handle it,” Shelman said.
Brandon Sanchez, who is injured, hasn’t yet played in a game for Mt. Pleasant, but he has been practicing with the Panthers.
“His knee is not as stable as he wants,” Mt. Pleasant boys’ basketball coach Paul Rundquist said.
But he said that he still had no problem becoming part of the team, and he looks forward to playing a bigger role next year.
“I still expect the team to be good; I will help in whatever way I can,” he said.
All three of the new Panthers had been playing basketball with Mt. Pleasant students for years, just not on the school team.
“We’ve played AAU ball in the summer with these guys for a while,” Shelman said.
He and Sanchez had been playing since they were each in seventh grade; Pope has been playing since ninth grade.
Their experience in the summer league was a big help for the students as they started attending Mt. Pleasant — they already had friends and a place to fit in.
“It was a pretty easy transition,” Shelman said.
It’s not always that way.
“A transition like that, for any kid that age, can be tough,” Rundquist, who also teaches at the school. “But their experience has been positive. They’re definitely well-liked in school.”
As far as basketball goes, however, it wasn’t enough for all the players to simply get along — they had to be able to work together as team.
Again, playing in the summer helped, but playing in season is a little different.
First of all, they had to learn a completely new system. The system is one that focuses on a quick and aggressive defense, and that turned out to be an advantage for the newcomers.
“The defensive system was a change, but not too tough a change — I had prided myself on defense,” Shelman said, and Pope said the same.
Their numbers seem to back them up — on a team that leads Class 3A in steals, Pope has 51 thefts and Shelman has 37, putting them among the top four Panthers in that category, along with Cameron Frank (67) and Logan Mulford (38).
For Shelman and Sanchez, just being on a 3A team presented a number of differences. Both came from 1A schools.
“The speed of the game is a lot faster, and it’s a bigger crowd,” Shelman said.
“The (players) are bigger, too,” Sanchez added.
And joining the Panther program brought another difference to Shelman and Pope, whose previous teams have had a few tough years.
“Both me and Brant came from teams where winning was not really expected,” Pope said,
“so going to state this year is pretty awesome.”
All three players knew coming in, of course, that the Panthers had been to the state tournament for the last three years.
And all three players expected that this year’s Mt. Pleasant team would continue that streak.
It was their season goal, and they worked hard to get there.
With a state championship-winning team last year and a state-qualifying team for the last three years, the Panthers have gotten quite a reputation.
“It has been a challenge living up to expectations,” Rundquist said.
But the Panthers did not disappoint. The returning players now look forward to another opportunity to play in Des Moines, and the newcomers look forward to their first Class 3A state tournament.
“I want good things to happen for (the whole team) — they’re super kids, it’s so gratifying,” Rundquist said. “To have some kids move in and have them experience it, too ... it’s a happy time. They’re good kids, and we’re a better team because they’re here.”
The success this season took some talent, some hard work, and most of all, some time.
“It’s taken to this point for everyone to be on the same page,” Rundquist said. “I would have loved to coach all three of (the new Panthers) sooner. The whole staff commented that we would have loved to coach them sooner.
“It was a big learning curve for them, but they did a nice job.”
Pope points to the loss to Burlington on Jan. 26 as a turning point in the season, after which the team really started to play together.
“After that loss, we really had to bounce back,” he said.
They followed it up with a big win over West Branch and then rallied for a win over Ottumwa.
They haven’t lost a game since, and they’d like to keep it that way.
“We want to win it all,” Shelman said. “We need to take it one game at a time, but our goal is to win it all.”
Right now, however, they are enjoying the title of state-qualifying team, a sentiment every Panther can share.