Hillsboro coach Darrel Knoll describes his team as one with “five upperclassmen,” which is positive spin on the fact the Trojans return just one senior, Austin Cross, from last year’s 9-12 squad.
Having a 6-foot-6 post player is a good place to start, even though Cross is relatively new to the game.
“This is the third year he’s played,” Knoll said. “His understanding of the game has improved, and his positioning around the basket is much better. I think he’ll continue to get stronger around the basket offensively.”
Cross also has the defensive ability to alter shots in the paint and he should be a strong rebounder, Knoll said.
A quartet of experienced players, including junior guard Preston Loewen, junior forwards Braden Vogt and Carson Herbel, and sophomore guard Elias Worth, should give the Trojans good maturity while younger players develop.
“Preston played a lot last year, Braden played a lot, and Elias played decent minutes also,” Knoll said. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re bringing along some younger guys to add to our team.”
Last year’s leading scorer, Micah Allen, and his 15.7 points per game average, graduated in May. Knoll said he wasn’t looking at any one player to fill that gap; rather, good movement and teamwork should give several players scoring opportunities.
“Preston has good ability to score,” Knoll said. “He can shoot it, and he played a lot this summer and improved his game. Elias has the kind of athleticism where he could develop as well. Braden has a nice inside-out game, and Carson has certain spots on the floor where he can really shoot it.”
Defensively, Knoll will emphasize high pressure man-to-man defense.
“Everything will be based on that,” he said. “We’ll adjust as we need to, but obviously that’s what we want to teach.”
However, the key to success may rest in the hands of the team’s underclassmen, Knoll said. They need to develop better overall vision on the court and improve their skill levels, but Knoll expects to find three or four who will be strong contributors.
Hesston, Pratt, and Hoisington are league foes that return experienced players and have good depth, Knoll said, but he welcomes playing tough competition as a way for his team to get better.
“We’re just going to have to muscle up,” he said. “We’re emphasizing competing hard, making sure we’re great teammates, playing with each other and for each other, being tough on defense, and making sure we continually improve our ability to compete.”
Hillsboro will open the season Friday at Nickerson.