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Trojans hope versatile lineup will lead to success, possibly a conference title

WORTHINGTON -- With six of its top eight players from a year ago returning to the court this winter, the Worthington Trojans boys' basketball team is gearing up for its season-opener Saturday at home against Mankato East.

"We had a great first week of practice, as the kids are buying into what we're trying to teach them," WHS head coach Ron Vorwald said before Monday night's practice. "We are still a pretty young team, but the kids coming back are all veterans, and we hope they play like seniors this year."

Joe Ahrens (six-foot, four-inch post) is the team's lone senior, as the other 11 players listed on the roster are juniors and sophomores.

Worthington will be without their top two inside players from last season's 9-14 squad, as Joel Olson (14 points and nearly eight rebounds a game) and Quentin Dudley (12.5 and five) both graduated last spring -- taking nearly half of the team's point (43 percent) and rebound (44 percent) production with them.

Ahrens, who averaged three points and three rebounds a game last season, will look to be the Trojans' go-to player in the paint and supply the necessary senior leadership.

"We're looking for big things out of Joe this season," said Vorwald, who begins his 19th season as the Trojans' mentor. "We hope he can be a force on the boards -- both offensively and defensively -- and provide steady play for us in the low post."

Juniors Adou Omot (6-2) and Kent Knutson (6-2) also saw lots of court time a season ago and will be counted on to produce night in and night out.

Omot, who started all 23 games last year and averaged seven points and four boards, gives the Trojans a versatile, all-around threat, while Knutson will be the "sixth man" and offer a spark off the bench.

Juniors Mike Vorwald (5-10) and Matt King (6-2), along with sophomore Travis Meinders (5-10), give the Trojans a trio of veteran perimeter players to manage the ball-handling and outside-shooting responsibilities.

Vorwald (11.5 points and five assists per game) made 43-of-143 three-pointers last season, while King (19-for-54) and Meinders (15-for-49) were each over 30 percent from 3-point range, as well.

"We have a nice guard combo in Mike and Travis," Vorwald said. "Both can handle the ball well and knock down perimeter shots. Matt can also hit from the outside, but will also help us inside with his height."

While the top six players give the Trojans a solid nucleus to build around, Vorwald is concerned about the lack of depth on his roster -- especially in the back-court.

Juniors Craig Soderholm and Derek Busswitz are two players Vorwald is currently looking at to bolster the rotation, although a few other athletes could contribute as the season progresses.

"We won't have the kind of depth that we'd like to have, so it will be important to keep our guys as fresh as possible," Vorwald said. "We will hopefully be able to do that because we have a lot of interchangeable players, who can do a variety of things on both ends of the floor."

Improving on the defensive end of the floor and controlling the glass have been two of the areas the Trojans have been keying in on during early-season workouts.

Worthington has traditionally been a man-to-man defensive team featuring high-intensity pressure under Vorwald, something that will continue this season.

"Our man-to-man defensive pressure has been our bread-and-butter, but we will also play some zone when the situation calls for it," Vorwald said. "We won't apply much full-court pressure, so we are really focusing on improving our half-court defensive abilities."

Omot is the team's defensive stopper and will likely be assigned to the opponent's top offensive threat on a regular basis.

However, team defense is the key for Worthington, with all five players working together, stepping off to stop dribble penetration and rotating to "help the helper."

Worthington has a little bit of everything on the offensive end, with players able to score from the perimeter, off the dribble and on the low block.

The Trojans, who turned the ball over an average of 16 times per game last season, have displayed unselfish habits so far and will look to take better care of the basketball -- leading to better offensive execution and a balanced attack.

When everything is put together, the Trojans hope to have all the pieces needed to contend for a top spot in the Southwest Conference -- where they finished tied for fifth last year with a 4-8 mark -- and Section 2AAA.

They will get things started with their first test of the season Saturday.