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Change happens. In sports, a team’s character emerges in the way it reacts to that change.

And for better or worse, the Defense Department schools’ U.K. basketball teams are dealing with a big change this year.

For the first time, DODDS-Europe teams are being grouped based on geography instead of school size. Gone is the divisional structure that saw big schools playing big schools, and smaller squads squaring off against each other.

Here, big programs, such as Lakenheath’s, are in the same grouping as Menwith Hill and Alconbury, their smaller brethren on the island.

The three are now grouped with the International School of Brussels and SHAPE, both of which have larger programs than the Mustangs or Dragons, and Brussels.

However, the teams will revert to their traditional divisional groupings for the annual European tournaments in February.

Last month, DODDS-Europe athletic director Karen Seadore said the change was about more than the financial implication of having all those kids travel to the continent.

“There will be a decrease in the loss of school time for students and teacher-coaches, and our parents should have more opportunities to see their children participate in games scheduled close to home,” she told Stripes.

Depending on school size, the change has had a varying effect on the U.K. schools.

“It makes for a very, very challenging schedule,” Menwith Hill boys coach Pete Resnick said last week.

His small squad now has to play the larger schools of Lakenheath, ISB and SHAPE.

The Mustangs don’t have enough players to field a varsity and junior varsity squad, so his guys inevitably go up against a deeper bench when playing the larger schools, Resnick said.

“You need to keep the kids positive,” he said. “It’s discouraging to lose, and lose big.”

So far, that has not been a problem for the Mustangs, who hung close in the official start to their regular season, losing a pair at home to ISB, 47-39 and 52-40. Last weekend they played two local international schools — ACS Hillingdon and ACS Cobham.

While the Mustangs won’t be traveling to Germany as much this year, battling the bigger programs might toughen up his guys to go against schools their own size at Europeans.

“We’ll be OK, as long as our kids aren’t so discouraged by having that difficult schedule,” Resnick said.

A school like Lakenheath could experience the opposite effect. Instead of meeting perennial powerhouses such as Heidelberg and Ramstein before tournament time, it will be forced to match up against smaller teams.

“Just like any team you play, you’d like to see what your competition is going to be, but that’s sports in general,” Lakenheath Principal Kent Worford said.

Only time will tell how it affects the Lancers’ competitiveness, he said.

Lakenheath opened its season with a sweep of visiting Brussels 65-25 and 70-52. Sophomores Malique Pratt and Taiyo Robertson took turns leading the team in scoring.

“One thing that we will run into and have run into is some teams we are playing have a lack of [JV] squads,” Worford said. “We’re just suiting up as many players as we can so they can get playing time” in the varsity game.

Alconbury coach Ron Behr said the change may prove more jarring for those bigger schools.

“We’re just more prepared, and we have nothing to lose,” he said of his team, which opened its season with a 42-40 win against ACS Hillingdon before a couple of one-sided losses at SHAPE the next weekend.

One of the Dragons’ team captains, sophomore Arous Brown, said the scheduling ultimately will make the team more prepared for each game.

“I take it as any other game,” he said. “You put your best team out and go out to win.”

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