Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 28 November 2006 18:00In his 19th season, Hillsboro coach Darrel Knoll will build his team on the foundation of eight returning seniors and letter-winners. Pictured are (from left) Darren Ens, Brett McIntosh, exchange student Radoslaw Kocialkowski, Tyler Kaufman, Troy Frick, Aaron Stepanek, Lucas Hamm and Daniel Jost. Hamm, a second-team all-league selection last year, is the only returning starter from a team that went 16-7 last season.
With only one starter returning from last season's 16-7 squad, you might think Hillsboro coach Darrel Knoll is a little apprehensive about the upcoming campaign.
But the Trojan mentor, now in his 19th season, is picking his squad to be near the top of the Mid-Central Activities Association again, and a real threat for the post-season.
And his expectations aren't based on groundless optimism.
Knoll's returning starter was a second-team all league-pick last season, he's got several players coming off an undefeated junior-varsity season who also put in quality varsity minutes off the bench, a transfer who was a varsity starter elsewhere, and some promising sophomores waiting in the wings.
In other words, Knoll is reloading instead of rebuilding.
"I think you're nervous every year when you start out, especially with a new group," Knoll said. "A lot of our success will depend on chemistry, how much work's been done in the off-season, the amount of confidence you can develop as a unit-all those things.
"We realize we have a new team to mold together, but I think we have enough talent that we could be pretty good when it's all done."
Knoll's returning starter is Lucas Hamm, a 6-foot, 2-inch senior forward, who averaged nearly 12 points and more than nine rebounds and three assists per game last season.
"This will be his fourth year as a varsity player," Knoll said. "Lucas is one of those guys who's strong inside and can really take care of the boards. He plays pretty strong defense and is a pretty good shooter.
"Obviously, he's going to be one of the guys that needs to be able to produce, but also understand that he has to get all the other guys involved, too, because I'm sure other teams are going to be trying to do things to keep him out of his game.
"I think he's ready for his senior year, and we're looking for him to have a real good one."
Coming back as varsity contributors from a year ago are fellow seniors Troy Frick (6-3), Aaron Stepanek (5-10), Darren Enns (6-3) and Tyler Kaufman (6-0), as well as sophomore Daniel Jost (6-1).
"Troy's grown a couple of inches from last year," Knoll said. "He looks like he's more confident this year so far. He could really turn into a great player this season. He's got the right kind of build for it, he looks better and he's just quicker."
Knoll sees Stepanek contributing at point guard.
"Aaron is one of those players who played some last year, off and on," Knoll said. "He had times when he made some really good contributions. He's really quick and a good on-the-ball defender. If we can get him running the offense, he could really help us."
Enns has been hobbled in the preseason with a leg problem, but he'll bring size, strength and smarts to the post area, according to Knoll.
"He's got a good head for the game and a good shot from the outside," Knoll said. "He had some games last year where he played a quarter and a half when Wade (Weibert) and Peter (Fast) were in foul trouble, and made some real contributions. I think he could be a good player this year.
"Tyler Kaufman can really shoot it when he gets going," Knoll said. "Last year on JV he got to the point where he was playing with a lot of confidence. If we can get him that way (this season), he could be one of those who can come in and contribute a ton because people may overlook him."
Jost made an impact last season as a freshman, including some key contributions late in the season.
"He did a lot of good things defensively last season," Knoll said. "Hopefully, as a sophomore, we can help him make his game a little more rounded and utilize him more in both ways."
Those five players will need to step up their game to fill the void on offense. Last season they combined to average just over 5 points per game.
Brett McIntosh (6-2) is part of the team's senior core this season, but did not play varsity a year ago.
"We'll have to see how he develops," Knoll said. "He loves the game of basketball and he works really hard at it. If he can keep developing his skills, he can come in and fill some key roles."
The Trojans expect to get a huge boost with the addition of Spencer Brown, a 5-10 junior who started at Minneapolis last season.
"He's a real competitor-that's probably the thing I see as his biggest asset," Knoll said. "He's really quick on defense. Offensively, he knows how to attack, so I see him as being a real strong asset to the team this year."
Whether they'll see much varsity time this season remains to be seen, but talented sophomores David Loewen (6-3), Clay Shewey (6-0) and Elliott Soyez (6-0) led last year's freshman team to a successful season even without classmate Jost.
"We'll have to see how they come along," Knoll said. "They're just going to have to compete for spots on the varsity and find ways to contribute. They'll certainly help us in terms of quality practices. Some of them might be sneaking into (varsity) games as the year goes along."
Hillsboro's road to success is imbedded with several challenges, including a late start due to the success of the football team this fall.
"For the way we run our system here, it takes a week of really executing certain aspects of offense and defense," Knoll said. "It's important to execute the fundamental skills to be successful.
"Then, being in shape for basketball is different than being shape for football," he added. "That conditioning factor really weighs in.
"Those kind of things present some challenges, but we just have to meet them and do the best we can.."
Given the fresh mix of this year's team, building confidence will be important, Knoll said. The strength of the Trojans' schedule, especially the six-game slate prior to Christmas, is of some concern.
The Trojans will open Dec. 4 with their first appearance at the Cheney Invitational against the host team, and then will match up against a tough Smoky Valley squad in the second round at Hillsboro. The third game of that tournament will again be played at Cheney.
But before the holiday break arrives, the Trojans also will play on the road against tough MCAA foes Halstead and Wichita Collegiate. Nickerson will visit Brown Gymnasium between those two games.
Add to that mix the always-tough field at the Trojan Invitational in January, and that HHS will face MCAA contenders Collegiate, Smoky Valley and Halstead at least twice this season.
"From a scheduling standpoint, we're going to have to be ready to roll," Knoll said.
"I still say you have to win to be confident," he added. "Realizing where we're starting, we're playing to win every game and I'm not expecting to lose. But if we happen to drop one or two games early, we've got to keep our heads up and keep working because we have the talent to really make a run in the post-season."