Coaches fear the dreaded sophomore slump.
In other words, just because a player had an impressive freshman campaign, there are no guarantees complacency, injuries or improved scouting can’t make Year 2 a disappointment.
That doesn’t look like it should be a concern for WPI sophomore Zach Karalis of North Andover.
The former Eagle-Tribune MVP hit the ground running last winter, coming off the bench to average 10.1 points with Steph Curry-esque offensive efficiency: .472 shooting (8th best in league), .467 on 3-pointers (league leader) and .825 from the line.
“Zach is a player our whole program has a ton of respect and confidence in and we expect him to build on the excellent season,” said veteran WPI head coach Chris Bartley, an Andover native who again used his Merrimack Valley roots to grab a top prospect.
The 6-foot-2 Karalis put in a lot of work to insure he wouldn’t level off. He looked bigger (he bulked up about 15 pounds to 205) and better in the season-opening 100-84 win at RPI on Saturday.
Karalis equalled his career high with 25 points and again displayed marvelous efficiency. He was 9 of 14 from the floor, 4 of 8 on 3-pointers and 3 of 3 from the charity stripe. He also grabbed six rebounds.
“I’m not looking at stats. I just want to help the team win. We want to go further,” said Karalis.
Bartley took a program in the dumps and has built a juggernaut. The Engineers are ranked ninth nationally in Division 3. Those expectations will be considerably more challenging to meet as last week it was announced that league MVP candidate Marco Coppola, who averaged 16.0 points a game last year, will miss the season due to ankle surgery.
Karalis’ numbers belie the difficulty of making the jump to college ball, especially at a top academic school like WPI.
“It was really tough,” said Karalis, a management engineering major who helped WPI go 26-3 and reach the second round of the NCAA tourney. “They are a lot faster and a lot bigger.”
The high point of his and WPI’s season was his buzzer-beating offensive rebound bucket to beat Babson 66-64 in the NEWMAC tourney semifinals.
“All I did was crash the boards,” he explained. “The ball just came into my hands. It was a reverse lefty lay-up. It was pretty nice.”
Bartley said, “We refer to him as ‘Big Shot Zach’ because he thrives in big moments and made some huge shots for us in the clutch last year.”
It would have been easy for Karalis to rest on his laurels, but both he and Bartley have set the bar high.
“I’ve really been pushing him to elevate his game in all areas,” said the 13th-year WPI coach. “Zach kind of has a quiet and steady demeanor but when the lights are brightest his game becomes loud.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.