After three years of dominating basketball, fans may see a different strategy next season from the Waconia boys. Not to say the Wildcats won’t be successful, just different.
With the departure of this year’s seniors in Alex Chandler, Wylie Ferron, Austin Fuller, Josh Lenz, Brian Porter, and Matt Rachey, names and statistic leaders that fans have come to know over the last few seasons will be missing from next year’s lineup.
“It’s not just stats that we’ll be losing, but it’s that stability of knowing what they were able to do and their development from year to year that their roles that changes as they went along,” WHS head coach Pat Hayes said.
But in their wake, a host of younger Wildcats are poised to take over the team and hope to continue a strong tradition of Wildcat hoops.
“Our complexity of our team will probably look a little different,” Hayes said. “We may not be quite as big as we’ve been, but the way we look at our offensive philosophy may change based on personnel.”
Returning varsity regulars will include juniors Ryan Boll, Jacob Herd, and Tommy Gove, as well as sophomore Avery Talton. Hayes said he is looking for others to develop and improve their game to the varsity level, and excepts that Boll, this season’s points leader, will continue to improve.
“I believe he’s only going to continue to improve based on his work ethic,” Hayes said. “There’s a good base of players there that have experience.”
This season brought nothing short of the success the Wildcats have become accustomed to. In the 2012-13 year, Waconia finished the season 23-6, captured their fifth consecutive conference title (the eighth in 11 years), and landed in their third consecutive section final. The Wildcats spent the year continuously on the ranked Class 3A teams, peaking at No. 3 in early January. The team had an eight-game win streak from Jan. 19 to Feb. 8, defeating seven conference teams and Shakopee.
On their non-conference schedule, the Wildcats defeated teams from Edina (Class 4A state qualifier), Chanhassen, Chaska, Richfield, and Benilde-St. Margaret’s, among others.
The Wildcats lost just six games to four opponents, including 2013 state qualifiers Eden Prairie (Class 4A), Delano (Class 3A), Marshall (Class 3A), as well as Prior Lake.
After defeating Dassel-Cokato and Willmar in Section 2AAA, the No. 1 seeded Wildcats fell to No. 2 seeded Marshall in the section finals on March 14 in a 56-48 contest.
“Anytime your season ends, that’s obviously a low point,” Hayes said. “We always seem to respond after a loss in a positive way, if it was the loss of a player or the loss of a game.”
He said the team expected to do great things this season, based on their level of competition and the tough schedule, and was pleased with what they accomplished.
“As a whole, I just thought our kids really responded to expectations and it’s easy to surprise teams when you’re that way,” he said. “But it’s different when you’re expected to be at a certain level all the time and sometimes that pressure is hard to live up to.”
Over the course of the season, the Wildcats scored 1,653 points, topped by a scorching 73 percent free throw average (393-539). They shot an average of 47 percent from two-point range (583-1,229) and 35 percent from beyond the arc (94-272).
Six players topped 100 points this season, with two over 300. Boll led the Wildcat offense with 393 points this season, followed by Rachey (346), Chandler (242), Herd (196), Ferron (188), and Lenz (168).
On defense, the team collected 758 rebounds, 159 steals, and 85 blocked shots. Ferron (153), Chandler (147), and Boll (145) led the Wildcats in rebounds, alongside Rachey (110), Herd (61), Lenz (48), Talton (39), and Fuller (38).
Steal leaders were Rachey (46) and Lenz (35), while Boll (34), Chandler (15), Ferron (11), and Talton (9) topped the blocked shots list.
Hayes said the season’s accomplishments speak volumes about the players in the program. As for a winning sixth straight WCC title next year, Hayes said he hopes to put together a non-conference schedule that allows the team to be as competitive as it has been the last few seasons.
“We hope to be able to put out players on the floor that can defend,” he said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been able to be competitive and stay in games is how we defend. Hopefully that remains a constant for us.”
This year’s All-Conference awards went to Boll, Chandler, and Rachey, while Ferron and Lenz were All-Conference Honorable Mention.
The entire Waconia squad was also named academic state champions.
“That says a lot about our student-athletes and the kind of young men we had here this year,” Hayes said.
Contact Melissa Marohl at email@example.com