Ellsworth looks to repeat as champions of tough Red Rock Conference
WORTHINGTON -- Ellsworth returns as the defending boys' class A state champions, but with many teams losing multiple starters to graduation, the Red Rock Conference championship is up in the air this season.
Here is a look at the teams in the Red Rock Conference and the lone area team in the Camden Conference -- Tracy-Milroy-Balaton.
The Ellsworth Panthers lost just one game last year in their state championship run, but look to replace three starters from the team that finished 32-1 last season.
Aaron Van Der Stoep, Josh Nolte and Travis Chapa graduated from the starting lineup, while Wayne Jansma, Ryan Kix, Jon Klaassen and Mitch Golombiecki also graduated from last year's Red Rock Conference championship team.
However, Ellsworth returns Cody Schilling and Weston DeBerg. Schilling, a senior guard, is a four-year starter and a complete player. DeBerg, a senior forward, is a two-year starter and will be looked to for more scoring this season.
Senior Brandon Gruis, senior Jordan Hinrichs, junior Adam Van Der Stoep, sophomore Trevor Gruis, and junior Tom Nolte will all see quality minutes this season.
"Our strengths coming into the season is that we return two starters from a year ago, and we have some kids who are ready to step up and fill in where they will need to," Ellsworth head coach Markus Okeson said. "We have good chemistry and work extremely hard. I believe we have the tools to put a competitive team on the floor night in and night out."
However, with a different team from a year ago, the Panthers will have areas to improve.
"We will need to improve on our defensive rebounding and gelling together in the early part of the season," Okeson said.
Ellsworth opens its season tonight at Southwest Minnesota Christian.
Southwest Star Concept
Even coming off the best season ever for the Quasars, losing four key players from last year's 21-5 team will force SSC to be a different team this season.
After losing James Granstra, Trevor Leopold, Lloyd Kalfs and Cody Ferguson, SSC will look to different players this season.
James Anderson (9.3 points per contest), Tyler Timko (1.9) and Ben Scheevel (7.3) will be the key players to step up to lead the Quasars.
"We played seven deep last year, so those three guys will be looked to to fill some major roles this year," SSC head coach Tim Owen said.
Senior Sam Haberman and Joe Liepold also return from the conference's second place team last year.
However, Kirk McBreen, William Cranston, Cory Pelzel, Jeremy Crocker, Logan Glaser, Andrew Rossow and Derek Stenzel all could see some playing time this season for SSC.
"We will be a much different team this season," Owen said. "While we will still stress good aggressive defense, we will look to do it more in full-court than half court."
Owen feels that the depth and quickness of his team will allow for a more up-tempo game.
However, losing four contributors to graduation is a concern.
"Our varsity experience, or lack of, will be one of our major concerns," Owen said. "We will need to quickly learn the pace of the game and the intensity of the game at the varsity level."
SSC opens its season Tuesday at Martin Luther.
With an 18-8 record a season ago, and three returning starters, the Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles are poised to make a run at the conference championship this season.
With three of their eight losses coming to Ellsworth a season ago, the Eagles will have an opportunity to face the Panthers in the first game of the season. SWC will host Ellsworth tonight.
"We only lost three seniors from last year," SWC head coach Jamie Pap said. "All the seniors this year played last year, so we have a lot returning. But we have to have them mix with the juniors to make it all work."
Seniors Ryan Pronk returns at a guard position, while Mike Vander Veen returns at a forward. Alex Huisken, a 6-6 center, returns to provide some height for the Eagles.
However, Tommy Van't Hof, Trevor Holm and Tyler Mouw will all be vying to fill out the starting lineup.
Ethan Spronk, Robbie Van Hofwegen, Nicholas Pfeifle and Kendall Stroeh will also see some quality minutes this season.
With the large group of seniors, Pap looks for experience to be a strength of this year's team.
However, one area that the team will focus on will be depth.
"We need to figure out who's going to fill the seven, eight and nine roles," Pap said. "My top six are very strong, and we have other guys that will fill in."
After hosting Ellsworth, the road won't get any easier for the Eagles, as they will host Pipestone Area Tuesday.
With many players fresh off a Class A runner up finish in football, the Adrian Dragons will have to replace three starters from last year's 12-12 season.
Ryan Lonneman, a 1,000 point scorer, Cody Kontz and Matthew Erlandson all graduated from the starting lineup, while Brandon Diekmann graduated off the bench.
However, Adrian returns a plethora of players that may see some action this season.
"Our strength this year is going to be depth," Adrian head coach Chris Rozell said. "We have a lot of players that can play."
Leading the group of players will be Brett Oertli. As a 6-7 senior post, Oertli averaged 11 points and seven rebounds per contest last year. Danny Parsley returns 10 points and five rebounds at a guard position, while Brian Tjepkes scored 11 points per contest a year ago.
Collin Lynn, Ajuda Alwal, Jesse Brake, Justin Weidert, Brett Springman, Jordan Kontz, Allen Gengler, Adam Diekmann, Nathan Reyne and Brendon Kopplow could all see some quality minutes this season.
"It is a smart group of kids that has played a lot of basketball together, so they should be solid on offense," Rozell said. "We need to find the players that will play defense and rebound."
Rozell said that being able to play physical on the defensive end and having solid box outs will be the key for Dragons this season.
Adrian opens its season tonight at Minneota.
Murray County Central
With the largest senior class of Murray County Central head coach Tim Bobeldyk's career, the Rebels will try to improve on last season's 14-10 record.
With Derik Johnson and Tom Spartz graduating, the Rebels will look to many different players this season to contend for the Red Rock Conference title.
"This will be the largest senior class that I have ever had at MCC, with a total of eight seniors out (for the team)," Bobeldyk said. "Five of them have started a varsity game at some point."
Senior Paul Counter, who returns as a two time all-conference guard, averaged 17 point, nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals per contest a year ago.
Senior center Spencer Grimmius returns in the middle with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks per contest. He will be alongside fellow senior Cole Hegstad (eight points, five rebounds and two-and-a-half blocks a game) at the center position.
Seniors Brian Everson (seven points, two assists, two steals a game), Scott Veenhuis (four points), Blaine Jacobson, Jesse Kathman and Jeremy Christoffels round out the senior class.
However, other players look to make an impact for the Rebels.
"There is a good mix of players within the 10-12 grades that will be able to contribute this year," Bobeldyk said.
Juniors Mark Bau, Mike Tentinger, Jase Bly and Travis DeKruif will vie for playing time.
Sophomores Kyle DeLong, Alex Peterson and Eric Wieneke could also see some quality minutes this season for the Rebels.
MCC opens its season at home against Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Dec. 15.
After graduating four seniors from last year's season, head W-WG coach Derrick Jenniges is looking to find consistent scoring and depth this season.
Jace Jarmer is the lone returner (13 points, 9.5 rebounds per game) from last year's team.
However, Mason Comnick, Derek Eichner, Joe Doubler and Dan McClellan all saw some minutes last season.
Jon LeBoutillier, Austin Quade and Justin Knakmuhs could all see some quality time for the Chargers.
"Although we don't have a lot of guys with varsity experience, our kids put in a lot of time this summer," Jenniges said. "Last year's B squad went 20-3, so we're hoping that success will carry over to the varsity level."
One area that the Chargers will hope to improve this season will being able to score from the perimeter.
With Jarmer (6-5) and McClellan (6-6) on the inside, W-WG should be able to use the low post offense to its advantage.
However, defense will hopefully be a strong point this season for the Chargers.
"Last year we were second in the Red Rock Conference in team defense," Jenniges said. "Hopefully we'll be able to maintain that, and we should be able to rebound."
W-WG opens its season tonight at home against Wabasso.
With graduation taking a toll on the Hills-Beaver Creek Patriots, head coach Steve Wiertzema will look to replace four starters from last year's team that won 10 games in the Red Rock Conference.
With Cody Rozeboom, Adam Finke, Tom Scholten and Aaron Esselink graduating from H-BC, Halden Van Wyhe returns as the lone starter from last year's team.
Van Wyhe, a junior guard, is a two-year returning starter. As an all-conference performer last season, Van Wyhe averaged 18 points and three rebounds per contest.
Josh Tuene (post) is the only returning senior on the squad, while Terence Reid (junior wing) returns with some varsity experience.
"We will have good depth and team speed," Wiertzema said. "Offensively, we should be good. We will be very quick and have a number of good shooters."
Juniors Joel Van Batavia (wing), Dustin Verhey (guard), Tyler Larson (wing), Tyler Paulsen (wing), Chris Luze (wing) and sophomore Andrew Scholten (post) could all see some playing time this season for H-BC.
However, Wiertzema looks at size as a concern this season.
Reid and Scholten are the tallest players on the team -- both listed at 6-2.
The Patriots opened their season at home against Lincoln Hi/Lake Benton last night.
Red Rock Central
With a core nucleus returning this season, Red Rock Central hopes to increase its win total from a season ago.
Leading the returning players from last year's 13-13 team is Josh Fredrickson. From his center position, Fredrickson averaged 12 points and eight rebounds a game last season.
Also returning is Travis Vollmer. Vollmer averaged 10 points a game in a starting role. Blake Walker (eight points, six assists) returns as a three-year starter, while Eric Altermatt saw some time in the starting lineup last season.
Senior forward Jordan Wetter is vying for a spot in the starting lineup this season, while Preston Pederson, Matt Fox, Aaron Furth, Bevern Kedl, Brian Benedict and Travis Erickson could all see some quality minutes this year.
"I think our perimeter players are as good as anybody's," head coach Brian Walker said. "I think we have some good outside players, if they give us too much room on the outside, we'll knock those shots down."
Walker looks to Altermatt, Vollmer and Blake Walker to be the main perimeter players for the Falcons.
However, the Falcons won't be one-dimensional.
"We'll have Fredrickson and Wetter on the inside to clean things up," Walker said. "We have a nice mix of inside and outside, but we just need to add that depth to solidify our team."
RRC opens its season tonight at home against Springfield.
Under head coach Lon Eichenberger, the Round Lake-Brewster Raiders are optimistic on improving from last year's 7-17 season.
The Raiders lost Lon Eichenberger, Riley Pohlman and Derek Baerenwald to graduation, but return five letterwinners from last year's season.
Cole Baumgard, Tim Haberman, Riley VanWesten, Alex Obermoller and Nick Ober all return after earning letters last season.
Erik Bourquin and Maxime Leblanc round out the senior class, while juniors Jeremy Nelson, Tyler Olson, Zach Schmitz, Alex Busch and Dillon Hanson are all vying for some playing time.
"Having had the majority of kids play together this past summer, and play well at times, has them excited," Eichenberger said. "But they need to play consistent, positive basketball."
Haberman returns as the team's leading rebounder (7.9 rebounds and 10 points a contest), while Baumgard returns as the team's leading scorer (15.9 points and 6.4 assists a game).
Hanson, listed at 6-6 will team with Haberman on the inside, while VanWeston (9.9 points, 1.8 steals, 7.3 rebounds a game) returns in the backcourt.
One area that the Raiders will have to improve will be rebounding.
"To improve rebounding is definitely a concern and an area to improve," Eichenberger said. "They must cherish every possession, as the Raiders turned the ball over too often and more often than their opponents last year."
RL-B opens its season Thursday against Mountain Lake Christian at Windom.
Returning all five starters from last year's team, the MLBO Wolverines hope to improve on a 5-21 season a year ago.
"We hope to become competitive in the Red Rock Conference and our new sub-section, 2A," MLBO head coach Shawn Naas said. "We started five juniors last year, so the nucleus is intact, but we only won five games."
Returning all-conference player and two year starter Barrett Herrig (16 points, 12 rebounds per game) returns as the leading scorer, while Kyle Schroeder returns 12 points and seven rebounds per contest.
Joining Herrig and Schroeder from last year's team is Evan Anderson (six points, five rebounds), Matt Strom (11 points) and Taylor Adrian (eight points).
"We return all but 35 points from last year's team," Naas said. "We need to defend and rebound better to improve and figure out how to win as a team."
Vannasay Thirakoune, Tyler Oakland, Shawn Neufeld, Air Chantharak, Austin Hopwood, Doug DeFrance and Steven Herrig also return and could see some playing time for the Wolverines.
However, with 10 seniors on this year's squad, Naas hopes experience will lead this year's squad.
"We hope to improve as the season progresses and try to make a run in our new subsection to the east, 2A," Naas said.
MLBO opens against Jackson County Central on Tuesday.
With six seniors on this year's roster, Edgerton will look to improve on a 3-19 campaign a year ago.
Trey Manitz, who was the Flying Dutchmen's leading scorer last season, Kent Van't Hof and Kevin Vander Schaaf graduated from last year's team. However, Edgerton will also be without Levi Ossefoort, who is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.
Seniors DJ Berning and Jordan Bouw return after seeing quality minutes a year ago, and will likely be in the starting lineup.
Berning will provide an outside scoring threat, while Bouw, listed at 6-5, will provide an inside game.
Seniors Allen Hendriks, Brandon Gunnink, Brady Vander Waal and Micah Mesman will all be fighting for some playing time this season.
However, they will be pushed by a solid group of underclassmen.
Juniors Marty Van Peursem, Pat Kleinjan and Alex Elgersma are poised to make a run at the starting lineup, while sophomores Chace Hulstein and Alex Heard could also see some quality minutes this season.
"This group of young men will work very hard and will be able to play physical basketball," Edgerton head coach Doug VanKley said. "They are very coachable and are competitive young men."
For the Flying Dutchmen to compete in the Red Rock Conference, VanKley said that the underclassmen will have to develop into contributing players, while the seniors will need to provide scoring and an intense worth ethic.
Edgerton opens its season Tuesday at Minneota.
Under first-year head coach Brad Holinka, the Raiders are hoping to improve on last year's 1-22 season.
"They've worked really hard the first week of practice," Holinka said. "I think they've responded really well this first week."
Seniors David Crowley, Tom Kuhl, Francis Olsem and Brady Spies will bring senior leadership to the Raiders.
However, juniors Tyler Goedtke, Alex Hein, Aaron Leinen, Ben Gehl and Kyle Jans are all vying for some quality minutes this season.
Sophomore David Keuhne saw some time in the starting lineup last season, and is the lone sophomore on the varsity squad.
With some younger players, Holinka said that one area to improve will be the development of the players.
"We'll get a rotation of eight or nine guys going, so I'd like to improve everybody's fundamentals," Holinka said. "That's about all we've done for a week. If we can get better at the fundamentals, we can put the big picture together a lot better."
One strength that Holinka would like to use this season is the athletic ability of the team.
"We're pretty athletic. I'd like to move the ball up and down the floor," Holinka said. "I really want to be sound defensively with good hard nose man-to-man defense."
Fulda opens its season tonight at home against Luverne.
With a new head coach and nine players returning that spent some time in the starting lineup last season, T-M-B is vying for the top spot in the Camden Conference -- after finishing 12-14 last season.
"We have 19 juniors and seniors battling for playing time," first year head coach Rick Haberman said. "We need to establish a top eight or nine players and then need to gel as a squad."
With Taylor Rignell, Nick Soupir and Kyle McIntire graduating, many different players have a chance to break the starting lineup.
Last season David Schmidt, Anthony Dolan, Steven Paradis, Andrew Prairie, Ryan Kaup, Spencer Zwaschka, Drew Nelson, John Gervais and Isaac Dolan all saw the starting lineup at one time or another.
However, Brandon Kirk, Josh Hook, Walker Schaar, Chris Hansen, Aaron Frisvold, Bo Kirsh, Ausin Butman and Alex Jones all have a chance to see some quality minutes this season.
"It's too early to tell," Haberman said of the starting lineup. "We're waiting for players to step up and earn positions."
T-M-B opens its season tonight at home against Pipestone Area.