Trojan boys return 4 varsity vets

Hillsboro boys will be led by these four returning letter-winners: (from left) Preston Loewen, Austin Cross, Braden Vogt and Elias Werth. Cross, who received all-league honorable mention, is the lone returning starter.

Even with only one starter returning from last season?s 9-12 team, Hillsboro boys? head coach Darrel Knoll feels confident this year?s team will be successful.

?We?re young, but I think we?ve got some guys who are pretty competitive,? said Knoll, who begins the season with a 460-170 record through 27 seasons at Hills?boro. ?The more we learn to play together and make sure we play solid, tough defense, I expect to be competitive.?

Knoll will build his team around that one returning starter. Austin Cross received all-league honorable mention in only his second season of high school basket?ball. The 6-foot, 6-inch post player averaged almost 7 points and 6 rebounds per game.

?I think he?s improved over the off-season, and has had a good week of practice,? Knoll said. ?Of course, he?s going to have take up that middle. He provides some size for us inside and has the ability to alter shots.

?He?s going to be pretty important for our success inside. I?ve seen some maturity in his game. I think he?s really starting to figure it out.?

Key contributors

Three of the remaining four positions likely will be filled by three returning letter-winners: juniors Preston Loewen (5-11) and Braden Vogt (6-0) and sophomore Elias Werth (5-9).

Loewen put in the most court time of the three a year ago, averaging nearly 7 points and 1.5 assists.

?Preston has the ability to really shoot the ball,? Knoll said. ?He played a lot in the off-season with a couple of MAYB teams. I think it?s really helped his toughness. He?s got a nice skill set, and defensively he?s improved.

?Another thing about Preston, I think he has a great leadership feel about him just because he plays hard and wants to be a good player and have a good team?not always in a vocal way, but he?s serious about playing well.?

Vogt, meanwhile, averaged almost 3 points and 2 rebounds as a sophomore.

?Braden has the ability to play inside and out,? Knoll said. ?He?s really developed his shot over the summer. He just keeps getting better as he plays and his overall confidence is better.

?He?s one of those guys who certainly needs to step up and take a good role on the team, both offensively and defensively. I think he?ll be ready to do that.?

Werth averaged 2.5 points coming off the bench.

?Elias loves the game,? Knoll said. ?You forget he?s only a sophomore because he played so much last year. I think his ball handling skills are better, and he?s stronger to the basket. He?s got some real quickness about him as well, so I think he can provide a lot for us, offensively and defensively.?

Potential contributors

Beyond those four varsity veterans, Knoll sees junior Carson Herbel (6-2) as one of his leading prospects.

?Carson?s got a lot of ability,? Knoll said. ?He?s athletic and he?s grown up a little bit in terms of his length. He?s got a really nice shot, especially from certain spots on the floor. He?ll battle for rebounds and tries really hard to do his best. I think he?s going to play a pretty solid part of the team.?

Knoll characterized classmate Ben Koop (5-9) as ?a real scrapper.?

Half of Knoll?s 20-man roster is comprised of sophomores and freshman, several of whom are likely to see some varsity court time.

?What I like about those younger guys is that they do want to play and they will get after it in practice,? he said. ?They?re just going to make everybody better, including themselves.?

In addition to Werth, Knoll mentioned sophomores Kaden Kleiner (6-1) and Elliot Ollenburger (5-8) as potential contributors. A handful of freshmen will be competing for time as well.

?Darian (Ratzlaff, 6-0) has spent a lot of time playing and knows the game really well,? he said. ?Joe (Knoll, 6-2) has spent a lot of time on his game and he?s really competitive. Then Jorge (Hanschu, 5-10) is an athlete.

?These are guys who are going to push the guys ahead of them, which is good,? said the Trojan coach. ?But they?re going to have to make sure it?s obvious that they should be playing at the varsity level.?

Season outlook

As for the big picture, Knoll said, ?Much of our success will depend on developing depth to go along with the returners we have. It would be nice to play a solid nine or 10, like most of my really good teams have been.?

Knoll said he sees Hess?ton, Pratt and Hoisington as preseason favorites in the Central Kansas League.

?They?ve got all their guys back,? he said. ?Ster?ling will be solid and Hal?stead is athletic with a junior-senior team as well as some nice young kids. There are other teams in the league who have a solid bunch of returners as well.?

As for his team?s key challenges, Knoll said, ?We?ve got to continue to improve our physicality. I?ve had teams that have been undersized before, but were really good. I think this team can get to the point were they?re really competitive and really good.

?It?s not going to be easy, but it?s something where we can find success this year in many different ways.?

The Trojans open their season Friday when they travel to Nickerson to take on the Panthers.

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