by Beau Wicker
Pioneer’s boys basketball team will undergo a youth movement in the coming year.
The Panthers will also have a young coach at the helm.
Austin Cowley, 30, was hired as the next boys basketball coach during Tuesday’s school board meeting. His hiring was approved by a 5-0 vote.
Cowley, who teaches social studies at the high school, was the JV coach under former coach Pat Skaggs the previous two seasons.
“I think that over the last couple years working side by side with coach Skaggs certainly prepared him for this,” Pioneer athletic director Mike Johnson said. “So hopefully there will be a lot of carryover from the last program to his.
“He’s a basketball guy, a gym rat. He loves it. I know he’ll work hard at it. He’s deserving.”
Cowley said that coach Skaggs built a stable program and that he’s excited to follow in his footsteps and take over the reins.
Skaggs’ JV coach prior to Cowley, Jim Metcalfe, is now the head coach at Peru after a one-year stint at Rochester.
“I have to echo coach Skaggs in that Pioneer has a class athletics program and academics,” he said. “Coach Johnson has done a great job with the athletics program.”
Cowley is a 2001 graduate of Winamac, where he was part of a sectional championship in basketball and a regional championship in football his senior year.
He graduated college at IUPUI. Prior to coming to Pioneer he was an assistant at South Newton for two years. He was the JV coach for one year at Winamac during a one-year teaching job at his alma mater. He also gained two years of coaching experience while in college — one year at Harrison and one year in Ohio.
The Panthers have won four straight sectional titles and went 67-31 in Skaggs’ four seasons at the helm.
But with the graduation of an excellent senior class and with leading scorer Carter Skaggs going to Logansport with his father, Pat, the Panthers will have a young group on the court next season.
“We say goodbye to one of the best senior classes this school has seen,” Cowley said. “Being able to follow their lead will be huge for us.
“We’re bringing back the same team that I coached at the JV level. We’ll continue that stability.”
Pioneer’s JV team went 14-6 this winter.
“We do bring back J.P. Smith, one of our two returning seniors,” Cowley said. “Looking at the sophomore class, we have Sam Kiser, Caleb Kindley, Chad Clifford and Zach Mason. They were solid starters for the JV as freshman. They’ve been focused for every workout and want to continue the Pioneer tradition. I really can’t ask for harder workers. We’ll have a junior, Deven Smith, and a freshman, Keith Nies, who’s been playing travel ball.”
Cowley said that veteran coach Tom Isenbarger, a varsity assistant under Skaggs the past four seasons, will be back on the sidelines for the Panthers.
With all that Pioneer is losing in production, the Midwest Conference landscape has changed. Cowley said Caston and North White could be the favorites next season.
Skaggs said both his old stop, Pioneer, and new stop, Logansport, will be in similar situations experience-wise next season.
“He’s got to replace almost 100 percent of their scoring. Any time you go into a new situation obviously there will be a period of adjustments and it will take some time,” he said. “I’m going to expect the same thing at Logansport. We’re going to graduate almost 100 percent of our scoring as well. It is what it is. Hopefully you can improve and work on things in the summer to get better.”
Skaggs added Cowley is a “good fit” for the program.
“He has a good relationship with the kids coming back,” he said. “I’m excited for Austin. He was an excellent assistant coach for me. He’s somebody who has a passion for basketball. He’s somebody who is a hard worker and is willing to put the time in.
“I thought he did a real nice job with the JV kids the last couple years. I think he has a lot of the qualities that will help make him a successful varsity basketball coach.”