• Bluejay men look to youth for success
The Tabor College men’s team will get a boost from three returning seniors, including all-conference forward Ryan Chippeaux. But the Bluejays will have to rely on a young, talented group of newcomers to generate a conference title run this season.
“Its been a great year so far for us because I have three seniors that are back and I’m excited about their ability to lead a young and inexperienced group,” said coach Micah Ratzlaff, who returns for his seventh season.
Last year Tabor finished 15-16 overall and 10-8 in conference play, losing to McPherson College in the conference tournament semifinals.
The Bluejays are off to a rocky start this season, going 1-8 in non-conference play despite strong performances from Chippeaux, who was named to the preseason all-conference team.
“He deserves it,” Ratzlaff said. “He works really hard, and mentally he’s really strong. That’s what makes him good.”
Chippeaux has already earned KCAC Player of the Week honors this season and consistently had double-doubles last year to prove his worth as an offensive and defensive threat.
“Defensively, he can guard all five positions,” Ratzlaff said. “Offensively, he can play probably four out of five.
“He’s a big, tough player for the conference and (assistant coach Anthony) Munson has done a great job developing him.”
Chippeaux joins fellow seniors Lawson Kingsley and Michael Janzen, who both saw significant minutes last season.
“All three of these guys have been in our program for four years, and I think that makes a huge difference,” Ratzlaff said. “I hope that will show up early and often.
“They’ve done a great job of getting these guys to the weight room on time, doing the right things on the court and off the court.”
Most of the weight of Tabor’s season still falls on the shoulders of its newcomers.
Leading the pack is 6-foot, 2-inch guard Robbie Samuels, a junior transfer from North Lake Community College.
“He came in and has been unbelievable for us from day one,” Ratzlaff said. “Not only on the court—he’s a great basketball player—but really good in the classroom and extremely respectful across campus.
“You know, when teachers start asking, ‘Who’s this kid?’ that’s a really big deal. That’s a kid who’s going to do a really good job for us this year.”?
Marc Hopkinson, a transfer guard from Cuesta College, and Nick Sauer, a 6-6 post player out of California, are also expected to see lots of playing time this season.
However, the cream is this year’s crop of freshmen.
“We have a lot of freshmen and our freshmen are really, really good,” said Ratzlaff. “How good, I don’t know yet. But it’s by far my best freshman class.”
Point guard Chance LeBlanc from Preston High School in Okmulgee, Okla., is already making waves for Tabor.
“A guy like Chance LeBlanc is going to come into this conference and play a ton of minutes and be really good right away,” Ratzlaff said.
Another freshman already making contributions this season is guard Reggie Butler from Dekaney High School in Houston. He is proving he can be a threat on the perimeter.
Ratzlaff said he is excited about the talent on his team this season and how all the pieces of the puzzle will fit together.
“We have shooters,” he said. “We have ballhandlers. We actually have some athleticism. We’re not huge, we’re not small, and I think that will help us on the defensive end down the road.
“We have a lot of guys who can guard different positions, and that really excites me quite a bit.”
The Bluejays will need all the puzzle pieces to come together to make a run in a tough KCAC conference. Tabor was picked fourth in the preseason coaches’ poll and is currently at the bottom of the standings through pre-conference play.
Tabor was scheduled to play an exhibition game at William Jewell College Tuesday, with tipoff set for 7:45 p.m., before hosting Benedictine College at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Bluejays open KCAC play Nov. 29 when they host Sterling College at 8 p.m.
• Bluejay women ready to take next step
The Tabor College women’s team hopes to find its stride this year after last year’s rebuilding season and the introduction of coach Shawn Reed.
“We feel a lot more organized,” Reed said. “I don’t feel like I’m chasing my tail all the time. I feel like we’re heading in the right direction but we have a lot of work to do.”
Last year the Bluejays posted a 7-21 record and were 5-10 in conference play. So far this year, Tabor is 3-5 in non-conference play.
“That’s not what we would consider successful,” Reed said of last season. “But there were some bright spots in that. We lost 12 games by 11 points or less. We were in a lot of games, but really couldn’t get over the hump until the end of the year.”
Tabor won four out of its last five games to gain confidence as the season drew to a close.
The Bluejays spent a lot of time on defense last year, as they had only a couple weapons on offense. The best of the bunch was Katlyn Mary, who was named to the all-conference first team.
“Katlyn is definitely the top returner on our team, averaging 12.8 points,” Reed said. “The experience she got at the point guard position will be beneficial to her and has changed her capabilities at the two-guard spot.
“She’s more comfortable handling the ball and will try to use some of those skills within our offense.”
Another key returner for Tabor is classmate Tynan Honn, who brings strength in the paint and averaged 8.6 points and five rebounds last season.
“She’s a strong post player and has had a really good fall,” Reed said. “I’ve been pleased with the progress she made from last year to the beginning of this year.”
Also returning are Hannah Paust, a starter last year, and sophomore Becky Bryan, who was named to the KCAC all-freshman team last season.
The Bluejays have 14 players returning this year, including six seniors, which, Reed said, has already elevated the program. Last year Tabor had no seniors and only seven players with experience.
Bluejay fans will also see some fresh faces on the court this winter as several newcomers are expected to contribute significantly this season.
Two players already making waves are forward Janelle Rust and point guard Nikki Lewis, both transfers.
Rust is a 5-foot, 11-inch junior from Elbing, who transferred from the University of Saint Mary to play for Tabor this season.
“I’m very excited that Janelle is there for us,” Reed said. “She’s a hard worker, a good leader, and can score both inside and outside.”
Lewis will take over the point guard position from Katlyn Mary, who is more comfortable on the perimeter but played point guard last year out of necessity. Lewis, a native of Tahlequah, Okla., comes as a junior from Conners State College.
“She’s itty-bitty and quick as a hiccup,” Reed said. “She’s very good with the ball and can score outside. She’s really going to transform our point-guard position and give us something there that we definitely did not have last year.
“She’s also extremely hard-working and I’ve been very pleased with her to this point. I think she will make a big impact for us.”
Also new to the team are Jazmyne Smith and Molly Moran, both guards Reed recruited late in California. He said both will compete to start and are nice players with different skills and abilities that will help the team.
Loren Oliver, a forward who was on the team last year but did not play, is expected to get minutes as well.
“She’s probably an under-sized forward but she’s strong as an ox and scores around the basket,” Reed said. “She’s a good rebounder, hardnosed, and I really like what I’ve seen out of her.”
Tabor also fields a strong freshman class led by Kayla Wilgers, a second-team all-state guard from Elbing. A strong player, she likely will compete for the backup role at point guard.
Another freshman likely to make an impact is Mallory Zuercher, a 5-7 guard from Whitewater who played with Wilgers at Berean Academy.
“Mallory Zuercher I think was a steal,” Reed said. “She’s extremely athletic. She’s one of those kids that every time I watched, I thought she was better and better, and I think that every day in practice.”
Rounding out the mix is Amber Tamez, an undersized post player from Tulsa, Okla., and Maggie Leonard from Marysville.
“We have a lot more depth this year,” Reed said. “We are a lot more athletic, which was a major concern of mine last year. I think we’ve addressed that pretty well.”
Reed has made plenty of other adjustments, including toning down the Bluejays’ extremely tough schedule from last year.
“Our schedule, although difficult, is not ridiculous like it was last year,” he said. “I think our schedule really buried my team last year and got us discouraged, so we tried to address that.”
The Bluejays will have to adjust on both offense and defense if they hope to make a run in a the competitive Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“We definitely have more tools, more weapons,” Reed said. “But what we’re trying to figure out now is how to put people in the best position to use their abilities.
“And we still need to continue to improve defensively and on the glass. I think those are things that we can work on.”
Tabor was scheduled to travel to Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence Tuesday for a non-conference game.
The Bluejays begin their KCAC schedule Nov. 29 with a home contest versus Sterling College. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.