You can’t blame Hillsboro boys’ coach Darrel Knoll for keeping his eyes fixed on the year ahead. The year past was pretty ugly. Not only did Knoll endure his first losing season in 21 years at HHS, the Trojans, at 1-20, finished with the lowest winning percentage of any Trojan team since the start of record keeping in 1925.
“Last year’s team is gone as far as I’m concerned,” Knoll said. “We are focusing hard on developing a good team chemistry and an attitude that’s going to be a winning attitude. Our goal is to be the best we can be, realizing that we have everything to prove.”
Knoll intends to reboot the boys’ program by focusing on hard work and defense.
“We’re taking the approach that we have to work extremely hard, we have to work together, we have to encourage each other and then we have to pay particular focus on certain fundamentals on defense, heart, desire and intensity,” he said.
Knoll returns his top two scorers from a year ago, senior Ben Bebermeyer (5 feet, 11 inches, 10.2 points per game) and junior Jesse Allen (6-1, 8.7 points), who received all-league honorable mention last year.
Those two have the edge for getting significant court time again this season, but Knoll declined to reveal many others.
“At this point it’s really difficult to say who’s going to play a lot,” he said. “The bottom line for this year is you’ve got to earn your spot, and the first place that’s going to happen is by playing solid, disciplined defense.”
That “starting at square one” message seems to be paying dividends in the preseason.
“So far in practice there’s been a real competitive atmosphere,” Knoll said. “A lot of guys see that maybe they have a chance to battle for a spot. I think it’s been a really positive environment. Guys have been willing to work hard to try to change a few things.”
HHS has several players returning with varsity experience, including seniors Caleb Hilliard (5-10) and Jarod Hamm (6-1) and juniors Grant Shewey (6-3) and Luke Moore (5-9).
“There are some juniors out who certainly have a shot at it,” Knoll said.
Underclassmen making an impression in early practices include sophomores Tyrell Thiessen (5-10), Shaq Thiessen (5-10), Tyler Proffitt (5-10) and Josh Wiebe (6-0) as well as freshman Brett Weinbrenner (5-8).
Freshman Christian Ratzlaff (5-10), currently recovering from a football injury, could be cleared to play after the Christmas break.
“There are numerous players in the freshman/sophomore bunch who could turn out to be really good players,” Knoll said. “They help us just from a practice standpoint because suddenly the game is really competitive.”
Weinbrenner actually has the early edge as the team’s starting point guard.
“Brett handles it really well,” Knoll said.?“He’s quick and really understands the game. He will contribute this year.”
With more players than open positions, Knoll is looking as much at attitude as natural ability because chemistry will be key for a team with below-average height and varsity experience.
“If you’re going to be on the team, you’re going to play to win, you’re going to earn your spot, you’re going to do the best you can to make yourself and your teammates better, and you’re going to encourage each other to do better.”
Knoll already is convinced this year’s squad will be significantly better than last year’s, but he makes no guarantee of significantly more victories.
“Our schedule’s pretty tough,” he said. “We’ve got Pratt twice, and they’re supposed to be one of the better teams around. We’ve got Hesston, who is really good. Those guys compete to win like most of my guys have through the years.”
He expects Halstead to join those two at the top of the heap in the new Central Kansas League. Even though he expects his Trojans to be better, Knoll is looking for improvement from most of the other league teams, too, including Sterling and Smoky Valley.
“It’s not like we have good size compared to everybody we play,” Knoll said. “We’re going to have to be fundamentally sound, on defense especially, being sure that we find ways to utilize our strengths to our advantage and minimize the weaknesses we might have.”
While last year’s team often wilted in the face of difficulty, Knoll is looking for mental toughness and determination from this year’s squad.
“When it isn’t going our way, we have to dig down deep and continue playing,” Knoll said. “That’s how most of the teams I’ve coached have done it. We’ve been able to play through adversity and win games at the wire because we were determined to do it.”
Knoll believes this team is ready to take a big step in that direction.
“I’m looking for guys who want to be good basketball players, not just guys who like the idea of playing basketball,” he said.
“That’s the way it should be.”
The Trojans open the 2010-11 season next Tuesday in Robert C. Brown Gymnasium against Garden Plain in the first round of the Moundridge tournament.
On Thursday, HHS travels to Moundridge to play the host team, then returns the following night to take on Lyons.