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Ellsworth back on the prowl

ELLSWORTH -- With a strong core of players returning from last season's Class A state runner-up squad, the Ellsworth Panthers hope to put together another successful campaign as they move from the Camden Conference to the Red Rock Conference.

With two starters (Ben Herman and Bryan Kramer) and a key reserve (Nick Deutsch) graduated off last year's 28-5 club, the Panthers bring back three experienced starters and a host of hungry seniors ready to compete.

"We're definitely not rebuilding this year," second-year head coach Markus Okeson said. "We feel that we're reloading -- with three strong returnees and some seniors that are ready to step up and fill some positions for us."

Back in the Panthers' starting lineup are senior Aaron Van Der Stoep and juniors Cody Schilling and Weston DeBerg.

Those three possess the talent and experience needed to lead the Panthers once again, but Okeson said his team will also need production from a bunch of other players.

"We have our nucleus back, but we need some seniors to fill in the pieces for us," he said. "If we can get some solid minutes from them, we should have some success."

Those seniors -- who each saw limited action last year -- are Josh Nolte, Jon Klaassen, Travis Chapa, Ryan Kix, Mitch Golombiecki and Wayne Jansma.

Juniors Brandon Gruis and Jordan Hinrichs could also help the Panthers, as could sophomore Adam Van Der Stoep and freshman Trevor Gruis.

Moving into the Red Rock Conference will likely be a challenge for the Panthers, as they will face a stiff test in every league contest.

"It will be nice coming into the Red Rock, with so many good teams to compete with," Okeson said. "We won't have to travel quite as far as we have in the past for road games, and we'll be challenged night in and night out."

The Panthers open the season next Friday with a road trip to another preseason favorite, Southwest Star Concept.