A dose of senior maturity combined with a seasoned core of young talent has coach Darrel Knoll expecting the Hillsboro boys to take another step closer to the Trojan tradition of state-caliber basketball.
Rebounding from a 2-19 record two years ago to post an 11-10 mark last season, Knoll sees the current crop of Trojans as being a legitimate threat in the Central Kansas League and into the post-season.
Hillsboro tied for third in the CKL last year at 6-3 and lost in the first round of sub-state.
“I would see us having the ability to compete pretty well with everyone in the league,” said Knoll, who begins his 24th year at HHS with a 400-141 record.
“I know there are other good teams out there, and teams that have a lot more size than we have,” he added. “But I do think with our added maturity, we’ll be better his year.”
Now in his fourth year of varsity basketball, senior Jesse Allen (6 feet, 1 inch) is the anchor of the team after averaging 5.1 points, 3.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game as a junior forward and occasional post player.
“Jesse has continued to improve throughout his career,” Knoll said. “He’s going to provide some good leadership for us this year. He’ll provide some toughness inside and has the ability to play outside as well.
“We’ve got quite a few guys back who played last year, so I think there’s been some chemistry developing that will allow Jesse to have better stats this year than he had last year.
“But stats don’t really tell everything about what you do,” he added. “There’s the defensive end of it, the assists he had last year—everything he did was important to the team.”
Another senior, Luke Moore (5-9) made his mark coming off the bench, and may play a similar role again this year. But that doesn’t mean Moore won’t be a significant contributor.
“Luke is just a hard-nosed player who is willing to take whatever role he needs to do to make us successful,” Knoll said. “He’ll D-up against anybody.
“If that means a lot of minutes one game and not so many the next, he’ll still come out and give the same effort. You can’t say enough about a player like him being part of your team and making good chemistry for us.”
Knoll is looking to a third senior, Brandon Rooker, to provide a physical presence in the paint with a solid 230 pounds packed onto his 5-10 frame.
“The thing we don’t have inside is flat-out beef, and he provides that,” Knoll said. “Brandon had good summer. He’s grown up in terms of seeing the game and understanding it. We just need to keep him out of foul trouble.”
A fourth senior, Devin Dick (5-10), may see limited minutes, but Knoll said Dick will hold nothing back when he gets in.
“That’s one of the things I’m asking the players to do—to compete hard,” Knoll said. “We want to continue to be smart players, but we’ve got to be willing to really get after it and be tough-minded players. Devin is one of those who tries to be tough on the court and play as hard as he possibly can. That’s a really good attribute.”
If seniors provide the stability and leadership, Knoll is looking for his other returning players to increase their productivity after completing their first varsity seasons.
Sophomore Brett Weinbrenner (6-0) made an immediate impact as the starting point guard last season, leading the team in scoring (10.0) while directing the Trojan attack.
“I thought he did a tremendous job as a freshman,” Knoll said. “He has a good feel for the game, and his ability to handle the ball is very good.
“The good thing about Brett is that he has the ability to score as well as to distribute the ball. He’s enough of a threat that people have to respect what he’s doing. He really helps us break pressure and does a lot of good things that allow us to be successful.”
Knoll’s third returning starter is Josh Wiebe, a 6-2 junior foward who surprised a lot of fans last year with his game presence.
“Josh provides some inside game for us,” Knoll said. “He has a knack for being in the right spot, he gets some solid rebounds and had a lot of good put-backs last year.
“I think he’ll continue to do those kinds of things for us. I think his decision-making will continue to improve. He’s a very important part of the team.”
Christian Ratzlaff got a late start to his freshman season last year, thanks to a football injury. But in the 15 games he played, Ratzlaff averaged 8.1 points, 1.5 assists and three rebounds.
“Christian’s one of those players who has a knack for the game,” Knoll said. “Last year he shot extremely well from three, had good rebounds and a good turnover-to-assist ratio.
“Maturity-wise, he’ll be a better player this year. I would expect him to build on what he did last year, and be even more effective than he was playing the limited minutes he had. He could be pretty good.”
Another player whose profile will increase this season is junior Shaq Thiessen, a 5-10 guard who showed flashes of explosiveness in the nine games he played.
“Shaq’s extremely athletic, he has a lot of speed on the court,” Knoll said. “He hasn’t been in a situation where he’s been able to prove himself, but he’s the kind of kid who, if he just does what he needs to do, is athletic enough to make plays both offensively and defensively.”
Sophomore Evan Ollenburger saw action in only six games last year, but Knoll expects the 5-9 guard to be a frequent contributor this season.
“Evan is an extremely hard-nosed player—very smart and competitive,” Knoll said. “The thing about Evan that I like is that he doesn’t make a ton of errors in terms of turnovers and getting himself out of position.
“He’s also very coachable. If you talk to him about something, he’s willing to listen to you and go out and try to do the best he can. He’s the kind of kid that you know can come in and give you quality minutes.”
A trio of juniors—Tyler Proffitt, Harry Faber and Kale Arnold—will be looking for opportunities to contribute in games as well as practices.
“Each of those guys had good JV years last year,” Knoll said. “They’re all kind of in the same position, where they’ve got a chance to gain some playing time. The thing that’s good about them is that they provide a competitive edge in practice, so the whole team is getting better.”
Knoll said quickness may be his team’s best asset, and it will make a difference on both ends of the court.
“I’m hoping our ability to finish plays will be better this year,” he said. “I think with the extra pass and better ball movement, maybe we’ll not only have better looks at the basket, but we’ll complete more of them.
“Defensively, I think we can play together and be pretty tough.We’ve always done that. This year, it’s more about being able to put the ball in the basket.”
Knoll sees Pratt and Sterling as the teams to beat in the CKL this year, with his Trojans, Hesston and Haven likely to be in the mix for the upper tier of the 10-team league.
“I think we have a good chance of finishing in a good place in the league, but it has to be earned,” he said.
“The thing I tell the guys is that we only have ourselves to control. We have to worry about being the best we can be. If we do that, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
Hillsboro opens its season Tuesday, Dec. 6, at Lyons for a 7:30 p.m. matchup with the Lions in the first round of the Moundridge preseason tournament.
The next two rounds will be played at Moundridge. HHS will take on Garden Plain at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and Moundridge at 8:30 p.m. Friday.