Handyman carries Cavalier attitude Boys basketball: A weight-training program helped South Carroll's Matt Steppling from being pushed around. His skills and new team chemistry are producing a winning season.

February 02, 1997|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Senior forward Matt Steppling is South Carroll's handyman.

Ask Cavaliers coach Jim Carnes about all the different things Steppling provides on the basketball court, and he'll come up with a lengthy list -- scoring, rebounding, versatility and leadership, to name a few.

Then ask him what the 6-foot-4 Steppling does best of all, and you won't have to wait long for an answer.

"The best thing is his consistency. I know what to expect from Matt, and I get it every night," Carnes said. "He's very aggressive, both offensively and defensively, and always gives you 100 percent. It's nice to have him."

jTC Steppling's success this season -- he's averaging around 14 points and eight rebounds a game -- has been a microcosm of the 9-4 Cavaliers' good fortunes. Last season, he saw just enough time to get a varsity letter, but the experience was vital in preparing for his senior year.

"Last year, I went inside and got pushed around a lot," he said. "Weight training was the best thing I ever did. After last season, I took a class that got me on some programs, and I've really taken to it. I'm a lot more confident on the court, knowing no one's going to push me around. It's nice doing a little of the shoving instead of taking it."

Carnes took immediate notice.

"Right from the start -- Day 1 of practice -- he took control. He has done everything he could to make himself the best basketball player he can be," he said. "He ran cross country the past two years, hit the weight room, and it's paying off for him now."

And for the Cavaliers, who have seen everything fall into place so far this season. After winning only three games all of last year, they've found the right chemistry in this year's team.

Guard Neil Petroski and forward Brad Johnson, both seniors, are two other returnees with varsity experience.

The outside shooting void that hurt last year's team has been filled by junior John Ely, who's averaging a team-high 15 points a game -- with 32 three-pointers. "An opponent was running down the court alongside me and asked, 'Does [Ely] ever miss?' I told him, 'No'," said Steppling.

The emergence of 6-7 sophomore center Sam McGrane has given the Cavaliers plenty of inside options. With him and the 6-3 Johnson doing the banging inside, Steppling steps out to play the small forward position.

"He has range from 15 to 18 feet, and that can cause matchup problems against some teams," Carnes said. "He also goes to the basket very well and isn't afraid to mix it up inside."

Steppling knew something special was going on when the Cavaliers opened the season with a 63-49 win over Atholton.

"Last year, we lost to them by 40 points," he said. "We knew what we had to do to be successful. Winning only three games last year was a joke, and we wanted to change that. We're playing with consistency, and there's a lot of team chemistry. When I go out on the court, I want to get respect, and you don't get that unless you win. We're just going out and playing hard."

So if that means he'll be needed to rebound -- fine. Scoring, that's fine, too. Moving to the small forward position so the Cavaliers can go big -- he's there.

"I try to go out and do whatever the team needs me to do," he said. "Sometimes it's rebounding, and [for] other games, I may need to score a little more. Basically, I just try to keep the team pumped up and focused. The season has gone so well, better than I expected. It's been a good ride, and now we're just trying to keep it going."

Pub Date: 2/02/97

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