Sterling, Va. — You can say a lot of things about Anthony Eifler but passive isn’t one of them. The second-year head coach of the Dominion boys basketball team is one of the more reserved coaches in the county, but he’s got the most important skill a coach needs.
Some coaches are known for their schemes. Think of Phil Jackson’s triangle, Jim Boeheim’s zone, or Mike D’Antoni’s seven seconds or less offense. These coaches were known for their systems, but the mark of a great coach isn’t the ability to create one great idea: it’s the ability to adjust. Eifler’s team was down 9-0 to the Briar Woods boys basketball team in a non-district matchup on December 9. He called a timeout about halfway through the first quarter, and for the rest of the game, his team gave up a mere 33 points en route to a 46-42 victory.
Dominion zones in on defense
That defensive performance was largely because of an aggressive scheme Eifler ran, which allowed his team to be active in passing lanes and get 12 steals.
In an era of basketball where everyone is going small, Dominion bucked the trend and put two bigs on the floor for extended periods of the game, pairing some combination of senior Mark Schroeder, junior Justin Mann, and junior Colby Matheny.
The two bigs wouldn’t have worked against Briar Woods if Dominion was in man-to-man, as Briar Woods senior guard Aidan Clark would’ve gotten to the rim at will, but the 3-2 zone allowed the Titans to stay with their two-big lineup and bother any drives to the rim by Falcon players.
“After the Potomac Falls game, our coaching staff sat down and said, ‘let’s let’s figure out what we can do to win,’” Eifler said.
Nick Barenz provides spark off the bench
No coach can win if his players don’t execute his scheme. The greatest ideas have been foiled by shoddy execution, but luckily for Eifler, his team was excellent in executing the defensive scheme. Their perimeter defense was exceptional and was led by a player Eifler called the most athletic Titan, senior guard Nick Barenz.
Barenz was a ball of energy off the bench for Dominion, finishing with a team-high +14 BPM. He was second on the team in scoring with 8 points on 3-of-7 shooting. His real impact, however, came on the defensive end, where he had six steals.
He seemed to know where the Briar Woods passes were going during the game, and after the game, he agreed with that sentiment.
“They do the same exact pass every time: ball to the middle and then get it to the wing,” Barenz said. “You just got to anticipate where the pass is going and get there.”
Slow start for the Titans’ offense
Despite their incredible effort defensively, Dominion still has a lot to clean up.
“We still haven’t had a good offensive game yet,” Eifler said. “Apparently, we’ve turned into UVA, which we never would have guessed.”
He’s right, the Dominion offense shot 16-of-41 for the game, a paltry 39% that on most nights wouldn’t have gotten them anywhere near a win. For long periods of the game, their offense looked stagnant.
Every possession seemed to last forever as they passed and drove and passed and drove and passed and drove, in the process getting nowhere closer to a good shot. They subsisted on putbacks and the occasional post-up but their offense lacked any kind of fluidity or stability.
Sam Shelton getting back to 100%
There’s more than one reason for it, but a large part of Dominion’s inconsistency this season on offense has been Sam Shelton. The senior guard was electric last year, as he was named the LoCoSports Athlete of the Month last December.
One of Shelton’s best attributes last year was his ability to get to the rim almost at will. He’d have a speed or size advantage over anyone guarding him, and he’d blow past them.
At the rim, he was fearless, finishing through contact repeatedly. He was aggressive last year, playing with his hair on fire.
When he plays that way, going downhill with a head of steam, Shelton is a top-five player in Loudoun County. Shelton hasn’t been as aggressive this year, and although he’s still a positive impact on the court, there’s another level that he has and can reach to propel this Titan team to higher places.
As his injury heals and he becomes more comfortable on the court, there’s great reason to believe Shelton will be the player he was last year and more.
If he gets to that level and Dominion is able to reach their offensive ceiling as a team, watch out.