Junior's out to prove he and his Tigers belong

As the youngest of four brothers, Trey Swaringen has always thought he had something to prove.

That mentality seems to be paying off on the basketball court, where the Mount Pleasant junior is motivated to outplay his siblings, Michael, Matt and Mitchell. Mitchell was the Tigers' leading scorer as a senior last year.

"Wanting to be better than them has always helped me," said the youngest Swaringen brother. "It's always made me push myself more."

After averaging fewer than five points per game as a part-time varsity player last season, the 16-year-old point guard has stepped up his game to lead Mount Pleasant, at his 16 points per game.

"He plays with a chip on his shoulder," said first-year Tigers' coach Jason Seidel. "He's very tough. He's not scared of any situation."

Swaringen, at 5-10, isn't afraid to drive against much taller players to get to the basket or draw fouls if his shot isn't going down.

Even though he's undersized, he also is one of the team's top rebounders. Swaringen again attributes that aggressiveness to his brothers.

"Being the youngest made me tough growing up," he said. "Having them teach me stuff and being physical playing with me while we were younger has made me like that."

That toughness also translates to defensive; Swaringen isn't afraid to guard taller opponents.

"He doesn't back down," said Seidel. "I really like that about him."

Swaringen acknowledged that defense has been one of Mount Pleasant's strengths this year, having kept the team in many of its games. He said he enjoys getting into other players' heads to force turnovers and get easy buckets for his team.

Seidel said Swaringen, who tries to push the tempo for the young Tigers, has been key for his team's success.

"The team goes as far as he goes," said Seidel.

Swaringen is still learning to keep emotions in check and not get down on himself when things don't to go his way, as well as how to be a leader.

He's had help from senior forward Dezmond Leach, the team's vocal leader who averages more than 15 points and 12 rebounds per game.

Seidel said his team is starting to come together behind Leach and Swaringen's play. As he tries to rebuild the program, his focus is on trying to change its culture.

"This team has struggled so much that they don't know how to win," said Seidel.

Mount Pleasant has also gotten strong play from senior big man Blake Koceja and senior shooter Cody Filiberti. The Tigers started the year 4-5 heading into last week's CMC-NorthEast Holiday Classic at Cox Mill High. The Tigers have gotten accustomed to having games decided late and overcoming large deficits.

"Whenever we get down, we play more like a family," said Swaringen. "We start playing more as a team and not as individuals."

Mount Pleasant started its South Piedmont Conference slate strongly, coming from behind to defeat Cox Mill and Northwest Cabarrus to get off to a 2-0 record. The team already has won more conference games than last year, when it had just one. The Tigers dropped their next game to Hickory Ridge.

Seidel knows the rest of the season will be a challenge, admitting that his inexperienced, undersized team will have a hard time matching up with its conference opponents.

"Every team we play is bigger, faster, stronger, so we're in that underdog mentality every day," said Seidel.

"We have to play as hard as we can, play for each other, and I kind of like that."

The competitive Swaringen sees that as an opportunity.

"Because we're small, people think we can't win," said Swaringen. "We want to prove them wrong."