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Washington boys hoops building early success

Each high school season, there is bound to be a team turning around its fortunes.

Washington High School is doing that this winter, creating some buzz on the West side of South Bend.

The Panthers are 4-0 to start the season, winning those games by an average of more than 30 points. Comparing this start to last season's 10-13 campaign, and it could be marked as an impressive turnaround.

"We just tried to change the culture a little bit and get after it defensively," said interim head coach Ryan Varga. "The kids have responded so far."

Varga took the helm this offseason, replacing Chad Johnston, who left for SB Adams after 15 years with the Panthers.

Though Varga is in his first season coaching varsity, he is no stranger to these players. He led the JV team for seven seasons before taking the reigns at Washington.

"I've coached our seniors when they were freshman," he said. "To have the opportunity to get them in their senior year, it's been an easy transition."

Though his new staff has tried to implement some different styles and plays, the real change has been in the bond of the players.

"They're very unselfish," he said. "They like playing with each other, and they hang out with each other outside of school. Academically, they're doing good things in the classroom."

That unselfishness has translated to the court, as Varga's deep rotation has given nearly the whole roster a chance to prove its worth.

"They love sharing the ball, and they've taken ownership of the 'It's not me, it's we' thing. They don't really care who scores, it's all about getting a win at the end of the day."

So far, that has worked. The Panthers have gained attention from the rest of the state early in the season, being considered one of the top teams in 3A.

Joining SB Riley's run of success to start the season, Varga says it's nice to see basketball in Northern Indiana get some praise.

"It's Team South Bend. It's what everyone in downtown South Bend talks about. As coaches, we check to see if [the other South Bend schools] are winning. It's great to have people talking about basketball up North, and not just the teams down South or in The Region. It's great."

With it being early in the season, Varga said the success so far isn't changing his team's mindset. While the Panthers look towards making a postseason run, it all starts with the game in front of them.

"We try to take it one day at a time. In our locker room, we have a poster that says 'One possession, one game, one fight.' Tomorrow it's about Penn."

That game will be another test for the Panthers, as they go on the road to face the also-undefeated Kingsmen. That game is set for 7:30 on Thursday.


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