EASTLAKE—Matt Vespa either is a glutton for punishment or he relishes in the ability to turn around a basketball program. For the second time in his head-coaching career, Vespa took over a program that has enjoyed very little success in recent years.
His tenure at North, where he graduated from in 2002, got off to a rocky start on Friday with an 86-54 loss to visiting Riverside, but he’s confident better days are ahead for the Rangers.
“We just need to get used to playing at the game speed at the varsity level,” Vespa said. “You’re trying to simulate that as much as possible in practice. The good news for us is we get a game (on Saturday) and we get a game Tuesday.”
COVID disrupted Vespa’s first offseason at North and also prevented the Rangers from their typical preseason preparations.
The school paused its athletic programs until after the New Year and now the Rangers are playing catchup.
Riverside entered the game 4-1 while the Rangers were seeing players in a different colored jersey for the first time.
“This is essentially our first scrimmage,” Vespa said. “I thought we did a great job and we didn’t give up on anything. That was our focus today. We wanted to just play hard for the entire game and I thought for the most part we did. If we’re able to do that, the scoreboard stuff starts to take care of itself. Obviously, taking over a program this year, not having a summer, not having a preseason, not having that stuff, doesn’t help the situation but we’re not here to make excuses. We’ll figure it out.”
North held its own in the first quarter as the Beavers led, 17-14.
Newcomers Ryan Baer, a 6-foot-7, 320-pound junior, and Sean Register, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound freshman, provided the Rangers with an early spark.
Bear scored four of his team-high 13 and Register scored four of his eight in the period.
“I thought there were some things that worked really well,” Vespa said. “Obviously, having Ryan and Sean on the inside, I thought we did some good stuff. I thought defensively, we were able to switch defenses multiple times.”
Riverside used a 22-7 second-quarter run to pull away.
The Beavers continued to dominate in the third as they outscored the Rangers, 26-12.
Charlie Fox led Riverside with a game-high 21 points and Caden Geiger and Erren Conwell also scored in double figures with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Mo Morgan contributed eight points for the Rangers and Jason Reik scored seven, all in the fourth quarter.
Despite the loss, Vespa remains confident the Rangers are headed in the right direction.
“We just need reps,” he said. “Getting those reps in and those game-speed reps are going to help us. I have a plan of attack but sometimes you have to adapt that to what these guys can do. The more we see of them and the more we’re together and the more they understand me and I understand them, you’ll start to see the success happen.”
North travels to Geneva on Saturday looking for its first win since a 73-60 win over Riverside on Feb. 15, 2019.