With only three of his nine key contributors returning from last year?s 14-8 squad, Hillsboro coach Darrel Knoll is facing more than the usual unknowns this season.
Creating the biggest vacuum was the graduation of three all-league starters?David Loewen, Daniel Jost and Clay Shewey?who accounted for 70 percent of the Trojans? points and 65 percent of their rebounds a year ago.
By comparison, this year?s squad is inexperienced and undersized. But that doesn?t mean Knoll is anticipating a losing season?if the attitude and work ethic of his players in the preseason is any indication.
?The guys are working hard,? said Knoll, who is 387-114 after 20 seasons at HHS. ?At this point, everybody?s battling for a spot on the varsity?and even on the junior varsity. There?s some pretty good competition in practice. We?re just working at getting guys in spots where we think they might be good.?
Strong at guard
The Trojans should be pretty good at the guard position, with four strong prospects.
Heading the list is Nathan Vogel, a 5-foot 11-inch senior who is the team?s lone returning starter. He averaged 2.4 points in a supporting role.
?Nathan is real quick, plays pretty good defense and there?s never a lack of effort,? Knoll said. ?He does have the ability to score, especially when he takes his shots.
?Nathan this year has shown some pretty good leadership in terms of having a good attitude, coming in with some enthusiasm and just working really hard.?
The team?s leading returning scorer is junior Ben Bebermeyer, who came off the bench last season to average 8.5 points per game, including a 37-point outburst against Haven.
?Ben has just such a good feel for the game, he has the ability to score inside and out, and just makes good use of his body,? Knoll said. ?He sees the floor really well, both offensively and defensively, and just continues to improve.
?I think Ben will have a great year if he comes with the right game face.?
Returning with quality varsity experience at point guard as a freshman is Jesse Allen (6-0).
?Jesse spends a lot of time playing basketball, he?s got a good head for the game, he handles the ball well,? Knoll said. ?He understands how to play the point-guard position. Last year he improved tremendously from the start of the season to the end. He?s a pretty good defender, too.?
Caleb Hilliard, a 5-8 junior, is a newcomer to the program, but should make an impact with his quickness.
?He?s really quick,? Knoll sad. ?We?re working on teaching him to play the style of ball I want him to play, but he?s got great potential, especially defensively. He can really get on the ball and put some pressure on people.?
The Trojans? biggest unknown is their front-line play. Knoll will be looking for junior-varsity players from last season to make the transition to the next level.
Mason McCarty (6-2) should be one of those contributors in his senior season.
?Mason loves to play the game and he has some potential to play certain roles for us,? Knoll said. ?He does have a nice jump shot, so I think we can put Mason into positions where he can be successful offensively.?
Jarod Hamm, a 6-1 junior, has shown significant improvement from a year ago, according to his coach.
?Jarod has a good feel for the game and a nice shot,? Knoll said. ?I see him being more aggressive to the basket this year, and he anticipates a little better on defense. He?s a guy who can step in and play some minutes. We?ll see how he develops.?
A pleasant development so far this season has been the play of Ethan Frantz, who at 6-4 and 240 pounds, could give the Trojans some size in the paint.
?Ethan is a big boy,? Knoll said. ?He can really rebound the ball, he can take up space in the lane. He?s worked really hard and has a great attitude. He?s the kind of guy who I think could be a pretty good player.?
Beyond those three, senior Matt Richert will be battling for time on the front line while senior Daniel Dick will compete with sophomores Luke Moore, Aaron Klassen and Grant Shewey for some time at guard.
With depth at guard, Knoll sees quickness as his team?s primary strength.
?We can put some combinations on the floor that can provide some ball-handling and quickness,? he said. ?If we move the ball well, if we work for good shots, I think we can take advantage of those strengths offensively.
?Defensively, we just need to make sure we?re utilizing our quickness in the right way and being as fundamentally sound as possible.?
The Trojans will need to compensate for their lack of experienced size with smart play, Knoll said.
?What we?ve got to do is to continue to work at gaining in our basketball IQ in terms of understanding the game, but also confidence and making sure we?re fundamentally sound.
?The challenge I have for these guys is to make sure we?re checking off the boards every time,? he added. ?Rebounding is something we?re going to focus on hard. We want to make sure we?re being aggressive so that we?re getting to the line, and be sure we?re turning the ball over.
?I think we could be a really good team if we do those things.?
Making the task additionally challenging for a team short on experience is a difficult pre-Christmas schedule.
Hillsboro opens Friday at Wichita Collegiate against the defending Class 3A state champions who have considerable talent, size and experience playing together this season.
Three days later, the Trojans open play in the Moundridge preseason tournament with a game at Garden Plain. Round 2 will be against Hesston with the third and final game depending on the results of the first two.
Hillsboro then plays at Nickerson before finally seeing the friendly confines of Robert C. Brown Gymnasium when Sterling comes to town Dec. 18.
?We hope to get a couple of wins out of there,? Knoll said of those first six games. ?But whatever the results, we?ve got to continue to maintain a positive attitude and come to get better every day.
?We?ve got to do that every year, but this year in particular it?s going to be real important that we continue to work to be our best and to continue to improve.?
Joining Knoll as coaches this season are assistants Doug Dick and Justin Moore.