Boys, girls high school hoops preview

by Dennis Sharkey

Boys preview

Jefferson County should see some quality basketball this season based on the early expectations from the coaches.

Second-year Perry-Lecompton Head Coach Jeff Hawkins is excited to begin a new season after learning a lot about his team and himself.

Oskaloosa Head Coach Drew Kraxner

Oskaloosa Head Coach Drew Kraxner was a star on the court as a player for Jefferson County North and will look to bring his high school career success to the coaching ranks.

Oskaloosa Head Coach Drew Kraxner was a star on the court as a player for Jefferson County North and will look to bring his high school career success to the coaching ranks.

Kraxner is in his first year but spent all of last season on the bench behind Rod Stottlemire. However, Kraxner will still lean on Stottlemire for advice. Stottlemire is sitting on Kraxner’s bench.

McLouth Bulldog’s Head Coach Jason Schroeder and his players are looking to take a big step forward this year. Schroeder said he and his players are hungry.

Jeff West Tiger’s Head Coach Matt Tinsley has spent four years with the team and believes the seniors he started out with as freshmen are ready to take a big step forward.

Tinsley will look to take momentum from a strong finish last season into this year.

The Valley Falls Dragons will have to replace a strong senior class that led the team to the sub-state finals last season. However, Head Coach Caleb Gatzemeyer doesn’t expect a big drop off.

Jefferson County North Head Coach Jim Brickell enters his 26th season as the Chargers head coach.

Brickell’s team dominated the Delaware Valley last year behind the leadership of senior Jeff Hale.

The Chargers still bring back their leading scorer and plenty of experience.

Coach: Jeff Hawkins, 2nd year
Last season: 2-18

Kaws Head Coach Jeff Hawkins is a lot more comfortable this year having a year under his belt.

Hawkins took his team to the Kaw Valley Summer League and said in an e-mail response that his team made strides.

“Our summer play had me anxious for the season to start,” Hawkins said. “We got better as a team and a program this summer.”

The Kaws will have simple expectations put on them by their coach but he expects a hungry attitude.

“Get better each and every day, push yourself to be better than you were yesterday,” Hawkins said of this year’s team expectations. “We are eager, prepared and ready to face all adversity that may come.”

Hawkins said last year was not only a learning curve for his team but himself as well. The former KU guard sought out the advice of former coach Bill Self and some of his staff. Hawkins also took notes from former KU coaches Larry Brown and Ted Owens.

“If I learned anything from last season it is, ‘the more work you put in the more you get back,’” he said. “I appreciate and respect all it takes to be a successful coach and I’m willing to do it.”

The style of basketball his team will play will develop more as the season progresses. Most of the players that Hawkins will depend on big minutes from have at least two years of varsity experience but some younger players will see time.

Seniors Jeremy Immenschuh and Jon Denton are the team’s captains but Hawkins will look for a group of seniors including Addison Jones, Derrick Eddy and Trevor Hastert to all lead by example.

“We just have to keep getting better each and every day,” Hawkins said. “We as a team plan on filling all the holes together. No one player or coach is bigger than the team.”

The Kaws open the season Friday night at home versus Effingham-ACCHS.

Coach: Drew Kraxner,1st year
Last season: 8-14

A lot of things will be new for the Bears this year including Head Coach Drew Kraxner.

Kraxner is entering his first season as a head coach. The former JCN standout is hoping to transfer the success he had on the high school court to coaching.

Kraxner is not new to the team. He served as former Head Coach Rod Stottlemire’s assistant last year.

Last year was a lot of learning for Kraxner. He spent a lot of time taking notes.

“I saw a lot and learned a lot about the league,” he said. “I knew the league but that was five years ago. You take that and keep it in your pocket.”

There will also be a lot of new faces on the court for the Bears. The only returning starter is Adam Brien. Dalton Ricketts was a bench player last year but will see some significant time.

The Bears lost 97 percent of their scoring from last year but Kraxner said his team will be deep. He expects to play 10 to 12 players each game but isn’t set on a starting lineup.

Kraxner will play matchups from week to week and even minute to minute rather than set a starting five.

“I don’t know if we’ll have the same starting lineup for two games in a row,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys in the mix right now.”

The Bears don’t have a lot of size but the emphasis will always start with defense. As far as floor leaders go, Kraxner is still waiting for those players to emerge. It’s early in practice but he hopes some of his players will step up before playing at Valley Falls on Dec. 6.

“I’m still really waiting for that one or two guys to step up like they know they need too.”

Valley Falls
Coach: Caleb Gatzemeyer, 7th year
Last season: 17-7

The Dragons bring back only two starters from a team that went as far as the sub-state championship game last season but Head Coach Caleb Gatzemeyer doesn’t expect a drop off.

“I always have high expectations with the kids coming through our program,” Gatzemeyer said. “If you don’t I think you’re just settling.

“Just because that’s where we’ve been the last couple of years and I don’t expect us to drop off,” he added.

The Dragons have plenty of experience at the guard position. Last year’s starting point guard, senior Brock Watson, is back to run the offense along with Drew Pruett.

Seniors Blake Burns, another guard, and Will Jones will slide into starting positions. Jones has some experience but battled injuries for much of last season.

The only player for the Dragons taller than 6’1” is sophomore center Ben Gantz. Gatzemeyer said Gantz will get a starting nod and will be expected to contribute significant minutes despite not playing a lot last year.

Gatzemeyer said his team will be outsized on most nights which means guard play will be important.

“Our guards will definitely be our strength this year,” Gatzemeyer said. “Last couple of years we predominately have been an inside team. Our offensive output is going to have to come from guard play.”

The Dragons on most nights will try to run against the opposition. On defense Gatzemeyer said his team will have to be fundamentally sound.

“We’re going to have to do the little things,” he said.

Although there is plenty of senior leadership on the team there are only two players from the junior class. That means a group of sophomores will have to find minutes. Gatzemeyer said the minutes will have to increase as the season progresses for the Dragons to be successful.

“I’ve got to have them help varsity wise,” Gatzemeyer said. “Early on I don’t know how much floor time they will see but as the season progresses you’re going to see a lot of help coming out of that sophomore class.”

Look for players like Luke Burns and Gates Glassel to see more playing time as the season goes on. Gatzemeyer said his hardest worker is junior Kyle Glissman and at 5’10” he will see some time in the post.

Gatzemeyer said the first week of practice has gone well and the seniors on his team are ready to get the season started.

“They’ve put a lot of work in over the summer and it’s time to reap the rewards,” Gatzemeyer said.

The Dragons open the season at home against rival Oskaloosa on Friday, Dec. 6.

Jefferson Co. North
Coach: Jim Brickell, 26th year
Last season: 18-4

The Chargers had a successful season by all accounts last season coming within an eyelash of setting up a rematch with rival Effingham-ACCHS in the sub-state finals.

Head Coach Jim Brickell said the goal is the same for this year, to get to the state tournament.

“We never talk about anything but championships,” Brickell said.

Brickell said if his team doesn’t set a goal of state they are being shortsighted, but his team also believes they can get over the hump.

“You’ve got to shoot for that,” Brickell said about state as a goal. “You’ve got to believe if you’re going to get there.”

The Chargers lose one of the school’s all time leading scorers in Jeff Hale and one of last year’s best defenders in Spencer Wentz. However, the Chargers bring back last year’s leading scorer senior Dalton Minor and key contributors seniors Dominic Kingman and Billy Noll.

Cory Noll, Jacob GrandPre and Luke Pyle all saw significant action as underclassmen last year.

Brickell likes his team’s depth once players like Mason McMillan, Brett Manville, Jacob Leakey and Kyle Polson are added to the mix.

Last year Hale and Wentz were vocal leaders but he doesn’t see that from this year’s squad.

“I think these kids are more leaders by example,” Brickell said. “But I thought we had good leadership throughout the summer. I think we got the kids ready to step forward and fill those spots.”

Brickell said he will also look for his team to improve and play better as the season goes on.

“You have to improve game in and game out,” he said. “If you’re not doing that your chances of going to state always diminish.”

The Chargers travel to Maur Hill/Mount Academy on Friday, Dec. 2, to begin the season. The Chargers were upset by the Ravens in overtime in last year’s sub-state semi-finals.

Jefferson West
Coach: Matt Tinsley, 4th year
Last season: 8-13

Last year’s Tigers team finished strong with a 7-7 record in the Big 7 with a roster full of underclassmen that Head Coach Matt Tinsley expects to get a lot better this year.

Tinsley said in a press release that he likes the makeup of his team this year even though half the squad will be made up of underclassmen.

The Tigers will look to score more points inside with more patient offense and improved production from starters Dalton Dean, a senior, and junior Jordan Korb. Both started last year. Tinsley likes Dean’s ability to score from anywhere on the floor while Korb’s presence is felt more on the defensive end.

Avery Farrant, a junior, and sophomores Alex Miller and Ian Mullins will all see time in the post. Miller played in every game as a freshman and brings plenty of experience off the bench.

Starting point guard Cory Brown, a junior, earned all-league honors last year and led the team in assists with 129, three-pointers with 25 and shot 72 percent from the free throw line. Brown will be backed up by Bret Ricklefs, a sophomore, who saw action in 11 varsity games last season.

Tinsley is looking for a big season from senior Zach Baker, who was second on the team in three-point baskets.

“He is a tough kid who muscled up during the offseason and is in line for a big campaign,” the coach’s statement says.

Tinsley is also looking for senior Kegan Kennedy to have a better year. Last year Kennedy shot 57 percent from the field. Expect Kennedy to take more shots this season.

A wild card for the Tigers is the senior transfer from Bluestem, Tyler Leed. He can play either guard position and shoots well from behind the arc.

Another sophomore expected to see more action this year is Wyatt Miller. Tinsley calls Miller a “spark plug” who causes havoc for the other team’s defense. Miller saw action in 13 varsity games as a freshman and did a great job of hitting shots and getting to the free throw line.

The Tigers open the season at home against Riverside on Friday, Dec. 2. The Tigers will be looking for their first winning season in six years.

Coach: Jason Schroeder, 6th year
Last season: 8-13

Bulldogs’ Head Coach Jason Schroder doesn’t hide the fact that his team has a chip on their shoulders.

“Hopefully we play that way,” he said.

The Bulldogs return many of last year’s starters and their coach has high expectations for this year’s team.

The Bulldogs start the season with a tough schedule with road games versus JCN and Effingham-ACCHS in the first two weeks.

“We might not see any results in wins or loses initially,” Schroeder said. “We expect to have 14 or 15 wins.”

The Bulldogs will be led by a triple threat at guard. Senior Calvin Booth, junior Marc Walbridge and sophomore Drew Cerny will be expected to set up the offense.

“We prefer for any one of those three guys to be capable of getting to the outlet and getting down the court,” he said. “I think we’re a lot quicker and stronger.”

The Bulldogs will also depend on scoring from Shawn Dailey, Gavin Swearngin, Carter Gish and Nick McAferty, who all were significant starters or started toward the end of last season.

Schroder said his team also has high expectations for themselves.

“We’re tired of the losing,” Schroeder said. “We’re tired of not hosting a sub-state game. And we’re tired of ending our season on the Tuesday of sub-state week.”

Girls preview

The 2011-12 girl’s basketball season opens this week with a lot of new and somewhat new faces on the sidelines.

Four of the six county coaches are beginning their first or second seasons at the helm of their respective teams.

Jefferson West Head Coach Andrew Gower is a first year coach but sat on the Lady Tiger’s bench last season. Perry-Lecompton Head Coach Phillipe McCree also sat on a bench last year but not in Perry.

Oskaloosa Head Coach Scott Whaley and McLouth Head Coach Gina Durkes have a little bit better comfort level. Both enter their second seasons of their respective teams.

Jefferson County North Head Coach Steve Noll and Valley Falls Head Coach Todd Gish are the two veteran coaches of the area. Both enter their seventh seasons. Both are also coming off trips to the state tournament.

Coach: Steve Noll, 7th year
Last season: 25-1

The Lady Chargers came up one game short of a perfect season and a state championship and bring back many of the same pieces of last season’s team.

Head Coach Steve Noll has to replace two senior post players from last year’s team. Katie Noll, his daughter, and Anna Kern. But the Lady Chargers have other players ready to step in including senior Kate Brickell, a three-year starter, who was lost for the season in late February.

Noll believes that the outcome of the state tournament could have been different with her presence.

“If we would have had her last year that would have made a big difference in the state tournament,” Noll said.

Brickell’s replacement, Emma Bassette, was also lost for the season before post-season play began. That enabled some bench players to get valuable playing time. Noll isn’t sure which players will be a fixture but he is happy with his depth.

“We’re still working on that,” Noll said about which players will step up for playing time. “We have a number of possibilities.”

The Lady Chargers will lean on Brickell and team leading scorer Jordan Kramer for leadership, but he is also looking for younger players such as sophomores Jamie Navinskey and Jacee Kramer to take another step forward. Both started much of the season as freshmen and will be asked to do a little bit more this year.

“Everybody looks to Jordan a lot and Kate,” Noll said. “We need some of the younger ones to step up and provide some leadership for us.”

Noll said his team realizes that what they did doesn’t matter now. He said the rest of the Delaware Valley doesn’t care either.

“Last season was great and the year before that one wasn’t too bad either,” Noll said. “All the teams we play could care less about what we did last year.”

Noll said his team’s success does put a target on this team’s back. He said his team didn’t feel pressure to go undefeated last year and nothing has changed this year.

“We just got to forget what we did last year and go on from that,” Noll said. “Winning state is a goal. If we can do that with four or five losses I think the girls would be happy.”

The Lady Chargers however, approach every game the same. With the intent of winning.

“But they don’t want the four or five losses either,” he added.

The Lady Chargers open the season on the road at Maur Hill/Mt. Academy on Friday, Dec. 2.

Coach: Scott Whaley, 2nd year
Last season: 16-5

Oskaloosa Head Coach Scott Whaley, who is in his second year as the Lady Bears coach, says going into this year is much easier.

“It makes it a little easier when the girls are familiar with you and you’re familiar with them,” Whaley said. “It’s nice to have the routine things established.”

Whaley got the job late last year as former coach LeeAnn Tufte had to resign because of a job and he didn’t have much time to prepare for the season.

The Lady Bears lose three seniors from last year’s team including Hailey Kelly, one of the school’s all-time leading scorers and also the point guard.

However, the Lady Bears have seven seniors on this year’s team and some returning starters like Haley Pfau and Rachel Schmanke.

Although the Lady Bears return with experience, Whaley doesn’t discount the contributions of last year’s senior class.

“(Last year’s seniors) played significant roles for us so we’re going to have to have some girls step up and get better and play in those spots.”

Whaley said the team’s emphasis will be to run when they can and to get easy baskets. However, the Lady Bears do have some size and will take advantage of their size in the half-court.

Whaley said his team won’t be locked into one style though and will use matchups to their favor.

“It’s going to be pretty tough to beat everybody playing one style,” Whaley said. “Sooner or later you’re going to run into somebody that’s maybe a little better than you in one style.”

Whaley isn’t going to put any expectations on his team yet but said they are capable of great things.

“We need to get better every game,” he said. “Hopefully by the end of the year we will be playing our best.

“I think we can beat everybody on our schedule but I think anybody on our schedule can beat us too,” he added.

The Lady Bears open at Valley Falls on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Jefferson West
Coach: Andrew Gower, 1st year
Last season: 5-17

Last year’s Assistant Coach Andrew Gower takes over for Steve Stallbaumer.

Gower served as his assistant last year and inherits a team that didn’t win a lot of games last year but is experienced.

The Lady Tigers return four of five starters from last year. Last year’s point guard, Erika Essman, will slide over to a shooting guard position and sophomore Victoria Johnson will move to the point. Johnson got some varsity playing time last season but Gower likes her athletic ability over the inexperience.

“She’s one of those athletes that you want at that position,” Gower said. “She’s a coachable athlete.”

Junior Haley Siess will move between a guard and forward position. Senior Katie Ricklefs will occupy the four position and junior Molly Hothan will occupy the middle for the Lady Tigers.

Gower said his team will try to slow the game down and will be a defense first team.

“I’m hoping to dominate on the defensive and rebounding side of the game,” he said.

Gower said his team should win at least half of their games if not more this season and he is placing high expectations on his players. However, he also realizes the toughness of the Big Seven League.

“I think and they know that they are a better team than that,” Gower said about exceeding last year’s performance. “The enthusiasm is there, we just need to learn how to compete with teams like Holton and Sabetha and Nemaha.

“They know it and they should have higher expectations,” he added. “It’s just turning the corner for this team.”

The Lady Tigers will open the season at home on Friday, Dec. 2, against Riverside.

Coach: Gina Durkes, 2nd year
Last season: 4-16

After one year at the helm of the Lady Bulldogs Head Coach Gina Durkes thinks she knows the key to turning around the program. Conditioning.

Many times the Lady Bulldogs played with or ahead of many Delaware Valley teams but came up short in the fourth quarter. She said better conditioning should tilt the tables their way.

“For the most part we were right there,” Durkes said. “If I can fix that we can definitely win some more ball games.”

The Lady Bulldogs return with four starters including senior point guard Terri Stewart. She along with guards Kami Wisdom and Kayla Steffey will try to press on defense and convert turnovers into transition points. If the Lady Bulldogs don’t get the ball down the court in transition they will look to last year’s inside scoring threat junior Kaitlyn Hullinger.

“If we don’t get anywhere in transition we’re going to try to get it in to (Hullinger),” she said.

Durkes said coming into her second season is easier than the first year but she will still depend on Stewart to be her coach on the floor.

“She’s always got a positive attitude and she always gives me 100 percent,” Durkes said. “She definitely let’s me know what’s going on.”

The Lady Bulldogs open the season at home Friday, Dec. 2, against Word of Life.

Valley Falls
Coach: Todd Gish, 7th year
Last season: 17-7

The Lady Dragons’ success last year took them to the state tournament where they lost in the first round to the eventual champion.

Head Coach Todd Gish returns three starters from that state tournament team but not a lot else.

The Lady Dragons lost three seniors including Abbey Kearney, who scored more than 1,000 career points and another player who is not participating this year.

Gish said he will lean on Ashley Miller, Macie Herrig and Molly Tillery for leadership and the team only has two juniors.

“It is nice to bring back three starters from a team like that,” Gish said. “It’s asking a lot for them to carry the load.

“We’re obviously going to lean on them and we feel comfortable about those three being leaders for us,” he added. “Those freshman and sophomores are going to have to grow up pretty quick.”

For the younger players it’s not an issue of if but who. Gish said freshman and sophomores will be depended on.

The Lady Dragons will feature a lot of different lineups to begin the season as Gish figures out who will be on the court the most.

“Nothing is really sticking out as obvious. It’s pretty muddy at this point,” Gish said. “We might take our lumps here early in the season.”

Gish said his team will have a different look than any of his other teams. Although the Lady Dragons are not big, they do have more size than in years past. For the Lady Dragons to be successful they will have to play an inside out game rather than the usual guard oriented offense that fans are used to.

“We don’t have a clear cut point guard let alone a clear cut number two guard,” he said. “We’re going to protect the paint and we’re going to have to be pretty darn good at rebounding.”

Gish said his defense will have to make shots contested. He said if opposing offenses get second and third chances they will not be successful.

The Lady Dragons will open the season at home on Tuesday, Dec. 6, versus Oskaloosa.

Coach: Phillipe McCree, 1st year
Last season: 3-18

The Lady Kaws have a new coach for this season who returns to a head coaching position after sitting on the bench in college.

Phillipe McCree spent last season on the Lady Blues bench at Washburn University learning under Head Coach Ron McHenry as a student assistant. McCree got his head coaching start at Olathe Christian from 2004 to 2006.

McCree heard about the Lady Kaws opening from McHenry. He said McHenry, who is a neighbor of a Perry-Lecompton USD 343 board member, told him about the opening.

McCree took over the position in May and got to learn a lot about his team this past summer during a six week league.

“I was able to get to see some of the things our girls are able to do,” McCree said. “So I got a little taste of some of the things we might be able to do this coming season.”

The Lady Kaws will play an up tempo style at both ends of the court. McCree said his team will press on the defensive end with the hopes of turning the ball over and converting scoring opportunities in transition.

“We want to get after people a little bit,” he said. “We want to speed the game up. We have a lot of athletes. That’s the good thing about us.”

Senior Natasha Carver will serve as McCree’s point guard. He said she can play the up tempo style that he is looking for.

“The style we’re going to play is more conducive to her,” he said.

Last year the Lady Kaws had seven freshmen that saw varsity time. McCree said his team is young but experienced.

The team’s leading scorer last year was sophomore Madison Hess. At 5’11” she was the Lady Kaws’ main scoring threat inside. However, some girls who have past playing experience but did not play last year have returned. Since school started some other faces have also shown up giving McCree some depth at the inside positions.

“We have some size that we can bang around with,” he said.

That means Hess will move out to a guard position. Ellie Schuler and Megan Kasson are expected to step into Hess’ old role.

McCree said he will play 10 or 11 regulars at the varsity level which will allow his team to stay fresh on defense.

The Lady Kaws will get a strong first test as they open the season at home versus Effingham-ACCHS.


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