Rams continue to taking strides under Hiserman

Matt Hiserman

STRASBURG – Matt Hiserman expected Strasburg’s boys basketball players would require some time to get to know one another this season, considering the Rams’ blend of youth and a handful of experienced varsity players.

With that in mind, the second-year varsity coach made a change to Strasburg’s summer plans. Instead of taking the team to a local basketball camp, as has been the program’s tradition, Hiserman decided the Rams would be better served attending a five-day team camp at North Carolina State University last summer.

“That was part of our goal by taking them away, not just to a two-day camp at Eastern Mennonite or somewhere local, we wanted to take them somewhere away from here where they could spend some time together, away to where it’s just basketball and it’s just them, nobody else,” Hiserman said recently.

It was that experience at N.C. State, Hiserman said, along with good participation in offseason open gym and the newly implemented summer basketball league with other local schools, that helped soften that acclimation process and led Strasburg to one of its most successful seasons in the last 15 years.

Under the leadership of Hiserman, the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2015 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, the Rams (22-7) advanced all the way to the Region 2A East semifinals — their first regional semifinal appearance since 2001 — and were one win shy of qualifying for the state tournament for the first time since making back-to-back appearances in 1999 and 2000.

Strasburg’s 22 wins this past season was one of the highest totals in the program’s history.

“I thought obviously we had a very successful season based on what we’d lost last year, where we got to last year,” said Hiserman, who led the Rams to a regional quarterfinal appearance in his first season at the helm. “With what we had coming back, you don’t know going into the season how it’s all going to mesh together. I knew we had some good young talent coming in. … With only basically three kids back with much varsity experience at all, you’re just not sure what you’re going to get out of the rest of your kids.”

It took the Rams some time to get going — the school’s football success placed some limitations on the basketball team during the first couple weeks of the winter season — but by the end of the year, Strasburg was getting valuable contributions from up and down its roster.

Strasburg placed second in the Bull Run District’s regular season and tournament races and picked up quality wins over Wilson Memorial and Bruton (last season’s Group 2A state runner-up) in the regional tournament. The Rams’ season came to an end with a loss to Prince Edward County with a Group 2A state tournament berth on the line.

The Rams’ roster depth proved invaluable during its postseason run — the bench gave Strasburg a spark in its win over Wilson Memorial and sixth man Trevin Howard’s buzzer-beater sealed the victory against Bruton — and Hiserman said the players accepted and embraced their individual roles as the season went on.

Hiserman credited some of the players’ locker room leadership for helping get their teammates to accept their status as role players, but the Rams’ coaching staff also did plenty during the season to promote camaraderie and teamwork.

Similar to last season, Strasburg’s coaches kept a “goal board” in the team’s locker room, on which they listed 10 season-long goals for the Rams to accomplish each game. Winning the game was at the top of the list, Hiserman said, and other targets included things such as shooting 70 percent from the free-throw line, holding an opponent to fewer than 50 points, forcing 18 turnovers, committing fewer than 12 turnovers and shooting 35 percent from 3-point range.

Hiserman said the coaches also taped inspirational quotes to players’ lockers throughout the season, bought each player a personal locker room stool and placed a sign above the locker room door that displayed the quote, “Whatever it takes.”

“That’s kind of been a motto with our team the last two years. We do whatever it takes to come out on top,” Hiserman said.

Hiserman, who has coached in Strasburg’s boys basketball program in various capacities since 1998, including as head coach of the middle school and JV programs, said some of ideas for those team-building tools (such as the goal board) came from his assistant coaches, but perhaps the most invaluable source of advice for Hiserman over the last two years has come from the stands, where former Strasburg head coach Millson French and Hiserman’s father, Richard, are in attendance at every Strasburg game.

French and Richard Hiserman, the longtime coach at Lewis County in West Virginia, have over 70 years of combined high school coaching experience.

“They’re spending a lot of time together since dad lives here, so you get them together a lot more and you can talk to them about things,” Matt Hiserman said. “Being able to have those avenues to go back to and say, ‘Hey, you all saw the game last night, what did you all think went wrong?’ I think having other eyes on the game, you’re seeing it from the coaching standpoint, they’re seeing it from a watching standpoint but still as a coach. They can go back and give you some suggestions, some hints.”

Strasburg will graduate three seniors off this year’s team — Ryan Smoot, Noah St. Clair and Mark Smoot — but Hiserman is encouraged by a returning core of players that should include leading scorer Tyler Fincham (10.8 points per game), Tyler Brill (9.8 points per game) and Mekhi Hendricks (9.3 points per game).

“It’s a lot to build on going into next year,” Hiserman said. “… You look at our scoring and stuff, you basically have your top three scorers coming back. Our kids are going to have to devote themselves to getting better because obviously 22-7 doesn’t mean you’re going to go 22-7 again next year. I think that’s where we built on the year before is our kids really got in and got better.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com