With the return of two starters, two additional letter-winners and two quality athletes sidelined essentially all of last year with injuries, Hillsboro boys? coach Darrel Knoll is optimistic about his team?s fortunes this season.
?I think we have the ability to be a really good team this year,? said Knoll, who begins his 26th year as head coach with a 431-157 record.
At the heart of this year?s team are senior starters Brett Weinbrenner (5 feet, 8 inches), a three-time all-league point guard who averaged 13.5 points and 3.5 assists for last season?s 13-9 team, and Evan Ollen?burger (5-10), a defensive specialist who averaged just over 3 points and just under 2 steals per game.
?I feel good about our ability to have someone who can get the ball up the court and has a good understanding of the game,? Knoll said of Weinbrenner.
?Last year maybe his shooting percentage was down a little bit from previous years (32.6 percent), but he?s shooting the ball well in practice, and hopefully he can get that where needs to have it.
?Brett looks like his game is coming along and will be fairly complete this year.?
?Evan?s a real tough defender and a hard-nosed player, somebody who does all the little things like setting screens, rebounding and taking charges,? Knoll said. ?He brings a toughness to the team that we really need.?
As for production on offense, ?His shot?s coming along,? Knoll said. ?We want him to look for more scoring opportunities that he has the ability to finish.?
Back from injury
Joining that pair are two seniors who have proven their abilities in previous seasons, but were forced to watch from the sidelines as juniors because of physical issues.
Christian Ratzlaff (6-3) averaged 10 points and 4.5 rebounds as a sophomore starter, then sat out last season with a rare knee condition that has since been corrected.
?Christian is back on the healthy end of things,? Knoll said. ?He?s got good size, he has a nice shot and a good head for the game.
?I think Christian has a nice quality about him that helps bring other players up. He passes the ball well and sees the court well. I think he?ll provide some leadership for us along with production, offensively and defensively.?
Jordan Faul, meanwhile, sat next to Ratzlaff on the Trojan bench recovering from a back injury until very late in the season. He, too, seems healthy and ready to contribute.
?He shoots the ball decently and he?s pretty heady on defense,? Knoll said. ?It?s good to have him back in practice and in the lineup. He matches well with the guys, so we look forward to a good year from him.?
The team?s two non-starting letter-winners from last season are senior Jesse Brown (6-1) and junior Micah Allen (6-1).
?Jesse?s athletic, especially in open-court situations he plays passing lanes pretty well,? Knoll said. ?Around the rim he has good jumping ability.
?His maturity as a player has improved, and athletically he?s there. We?re looking for him to do a lot of good things for us this year, both defensively and offensively.?
Allen has added 3 inches to his frame as well as nearly 200 minutes of varsity experience to his game from last season.
?He sees the floor well and has the ability to score,? Knoll said. ?Defensively, he plays hard. He?ll be one of those guys who will add some real depth, and is another place where we can score.
?Micah has a real desire to play the game,? he added. ?He can play guard or forward and has some nice athleticism about him.?
Rounding out Knoll?s core of seven players is senior Avery Franz (6-0), who saw limited varsity action a year ago.
?Avery has good speed, good athleticism and I think he can fill a really good role on this team?defensively and rebounding,? Knoll said. ?He does have the ability to shoot the ball. I think he?ll be adding at least a threat (to score).?
Knoll said it remains to be seen if his initial core of contributors will expand during the season.
?Those are the (seven) guys who have had the most experience, so they are the ones who are stepping in at this point,? Knoll said. ?Some of the younger guys coming up, hopefully they?ll be able to help us out.
?I think we can develop some pretty decent depth.?
Knoll said he likes what he?s seen in preseason practices.
?Practice so far has had a really good feel?there?s good chemistry on this team,? he said. ?I think that?s a really important quality. The guys are working hard, and there?s been just a nice focus in practice so far.
?For the first time in a few years we?re starting off fairly injury free,? he added. ?We?ve had a few tweaks, but it?s helped having a full practice squad there the entire week.?
The Trojans? strength this season will be speed and quickness combined with good chemistry, according to Knoll.
?Good chemistry will help us offensively to move the ball and take good shots. I think we?ll have the ability to put the ball in the basket consistently.
?Defensively, we?ll have the ability to maybe change up our defenses, and maybe control the pace a little more than we?ve been able to do the past couple of years.?
Knoll sees Hesston as the team to beat this season in the Central Kansas League after an 11-9 season last year.
?Hesston is deep and has good talent and size and a lot of experience back,? he said.
Beyond that, Knoll said it?s hard to know how the CKL is shaping up.
?There?s a lot of teams that lost quite a few seniors,? he said. ?When you look at us on paper, we have a couple of guys who have a lot of experience, and some guys with some experience coming back.
?I think a lot of the other teams are in the same situation,? Knoll said. ?I still think we can be top two or three in the league. I would be disappointed if we aren?t competing for that spot.?
Hillsboro will open its season next Tuesday when they compete in the Mound?ridge round-robin tournament again.
The Trojans will take on Lyons at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, then Inman at 5:30 p.m. Thurs?day and finish the week against the host team at 8:30 p.m. Friday.