By Anthony Fiorello firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Influence is a powerful tool.
Whether it’s a parent passing along sage advice to a son or daughter, or a teacher mentoring a student, people make an impact on others every day.
In sports, the coach-athlete dynamic tends to be most educational for younger players. But it helps to have veteran leaders; players who teach the younger, less experienced players work habits, leadership skills and knowing what to do in game situations.
Such is the case of Ben Stich.
Stich, a senior guard for the Tonawanda Warriors, is finishing up his third season on the Warriors’ varsity squad and was named as a team captain prior to the 2013-14 campaign. He also helped lead the Warriors to back-to-back ECIC IV titles in 2011 and 2012, and one trip to the Section VI semifinals at Buffalo State College.
But none of those accolades would have been possible without the wisdom and guidance from Warriors coach Hank Hughes.
“Coach Hughes has definitely been a great source of help to me throughout my career,” Stich said. “When I was called up to varsity in my sophomore year, I was a little skeptical about it at first. But he told me that he wanted me on the team so I could practice against better players every day.
“He works with me all the time during the summer and has said that I’m his right-hand man on the court. He’s been great for me.”
Hughes considers himself lucky to have had Stich for three years.
“As a person, I think Ben’s a great individual,” Hughes said. “He has a very high grade in my government class and he’s very dedicated to his studies. As a player, he’s accepted every single role that we’ve asked him to do since his sophomore year. From being a depth player that season to becoming a playmaker last year, and now being more of a scorer and a leader, he’s done everything he possibly can.”
Becoming a player that Hughes could look to in order to perform in crucial situations was something that Stich needed to do following the graduations of former players like Jesse Lalka and Clayton Hess. The former Warriors were two of the three highest-scoring players in school history, and were also great leaders for the Warriors.
Stich, according to Hughes, became a natural fit to succeed Lalka and Hess as a team captain.
“Ben’s really become an extension of me on the court,” Hughes said. “He has a high basketball I.Q. He always understands how to handle game situations when most kids in high school don’t. I put a lot of trust into him, and when he comes to me with suggestions, I listen to him. He has a good feel for the game, and he’s very rarely wrong.”
Stich said that Lalka and Hess each made a tremendous impact on how he has evolved as a player and as a leader.
“When Jesse was here, he really showed the guys on this team how to work hard every day,” Stich said. “I think he really believed in the saying that ‘If you work hard, good things will come.’ His work ethic really rubbed off on everyone and made everyone want to keep up with him.
“Clayton was a very competitive guy,” Stich continued. “Maybe the only person I know who is as competitive as him is my brother (Steve Stich). He also had a calmness to him and a quiet confidence that helped the guys stay loose in big moments. I think what I took from them more than anything are their work habits and their ability to keep guys composed in big games by letting my play do the talking.”
Since picking up where his predecessors left off, Stich has become one of ECIC IV’s best point guards and has developed a solid outside shot. He’ll need his best attributes to be in full form if he intends to lead the Warriors beyond the Class B-1 Quarterfinals on Friday night and to the semifinals at Buffalo State.
“It would definitely be exciting to get back to Buff State,” Stich said. “But we’ve got to take it one game at a time and concentrate on our quarterfinal matchup first. It’s finally starting to dawn on me a little bit that this is my last crack at sectionals, and I don’t want this year to end on a loss.”
Hughes said that this year’s version of the Warriors has already made him proud, but adding a deep playoff run would be the icing on the cake for him.
“This team’s come a long, long way from where they were at the start of the season,” Hughes said. “Having to overcome losing two of our all-time leading scorers and then making it to Buff State would be a tremendous accomplishment for our program, and for Ben and the rest of our seniors. If we can win (today), there’s no telling what we can do afterwards. We’ll see what happens.”Follow @tonanewssports on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.