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Monday, January 30, 2023

Matt Walpole’s ‘Dream’ Comes True With Appointment As Bob Vozza’s Successor At Metea Valley

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In a lot of ways, Matt Walpole’s directive is simple.

Don’t screw it up.

A very interested observer since Metea Valley’s debut season at the varsity level in 2010-11, Matt Walpole knows full well the tradition has been laid.

Named Bob Vozza’s successor on Monday after spending six years as the head sophomore coach, Walpole is uniquely qualified to understand what he’s walking into.

“Being a head coach and a head coach of a program that I’ve been a part of for the seven years we’ve been open, I mean, that’s kind of a dream of mine,” Walpole said on Monday night. “When it was official that (Vozza) was going to resign, I spoke to the other coaches on our staff and expressed some interest with them and wanted to kind of see where they were at with things. It just kind of took off from there.”

Under Vozza, the Mustangs won regional titles in 2012 and 2015 – with the Kenny Obendorf, Ryan Solomon and Sean Davis-led group in 2011-12 pacing matters with a 25-5 record.

A year after winning 18 games and a regional title – engineered by a 10-game winning streak and an upset of top-seeded Lyons Township – Metea Valley finished 14-16 in 2015-16.

“Bob laid the foundation for this program,” Walpole said. “And it’s a strong one. So my hopes are just to create some more building blocks and keep building it up. We have some great young talent coming back next year and it’s exciting. I have a little bit more personal knowledge with the sophomore class that will be juniors next year. They’re a tight-knit group that works very, very hard.”

Their debut season in the DuPage Valley Conference now in the books, the first group of Mustangs Walpole with pilot will be led by a trio of quality returnees come November.

Two juniors, Malik Hall and Jayden Reed, along with senior Jeremy Hunter will be asked to help fill leadership roles on a team that loses Dei’Ron Delarosa and Tristan Schlosser – among others.

As a sophomore, Hall earned All-DVC recognition by averaging a team-high 10.7 points to go along with pulling down 4.2 rebounds.

“The best thing about Malik is his versatility,” Walpole said of Hall. “He played some four for us last year. He played some five for us. He can go in the post. He can take the ball out on the perimeter. He’s even shared that he enjoys playing the three. So I think that’s just an asset for us.

“Having the experience of a full varsity season as a sophomore – and he’s a young sophomore at that – I think that’s going to pay dividends for this group that will be juniors, who he’s familiar with, he played with as a freshman. He knows those guys, but he’ll be able to share his experience with them. And I do hope he takes on a leadership role for them and for our program moving forward.”

Reed will be given the rock and prompted to lead the team as its starting point guard after averaging 3.2 points and two assists as a sophomore.

Calling Reed “already a great leader for this group,” Walpole will look to Hunter to offer experience that only comes with being a senior.

Hunter was second on the team to Hall in scoring after averaging 8.9 points but led the team with 4.6 rebounds.

“So combining (the juniors-to-be) with the experience of Malik and Jayden Reed and Jeremy Hunter, I think it’ll be a good combination,” Walpole said. I’m excited to get things going with them.”

Over the years, Vozza’s teams were characterized by their abilities to push the tempo and get up and down the floor.

While that philosophy hopes to remain the same, Walpole will ask his players – starting in June – to make their commitment to the defensive end just as important.

“We traditionally have been a more run-and-gun, kind of up-and-down type team that likes to push the tempo,” he said. “And I’d say the majority of the teams in the DVC – they play a little bit more of a half-court type of offense and they play very, very good defense. And we got a healthy dose of that last year.

“So I think, coming in, my No. 1 priority has always been defense. And I want to make sure that we’re able to guard some people and keep us in the games maybe when the offense isn’t clicking on all cylinders. So that’s going to be priority No. 1 when we start camp in a couple weeks and we’ll go from there.”

Blake Baumgartner
Blake Baumgartner
Raised in Naperville, Blake Baumgartner is a 2001 Naperville Central alumnus and a 2005 graduate of Michigan State's School of Journalism. Since March 2010, he has covered football, boys' basketball and baseball for both The Naperville Sun and Positively Naperville. Follow him on Twitter @BFBaumgartner.

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