by ADAM GRUENEWALD
With a departing group of seven seniors, the Central boys’ basketball team will be relying on some new faces this season.
Head coach Nat Boyer, in his third year coaching at Central and 11th overall, said the team is well equipped to handle the change as returnees have some varsity and JV experience to rely on.
Boyer, who teaches sixth grade, said last year’s team, which finished 18-9, continued to make improvements from the year before.
“It’s about getting to be part of a system and getting a culture built here and that’s really what we try to do,” he said, crediting this year’s squad as well. “The nice thing is these young men that are here have bought in and they keep working towards a goal. They know what we want to build and they’ve bought into it and they work hard… there’s a big time commitment here and we expect a lot from them and they give a lot to us.”
Leading scorer Tom Messner and leading rebounder Luke Marschall were among the group of departing seniors, along with all conference selection Trevor Groschen, so returnees have some big shoes to fill.
Among the top returnees include senior Andrew Cardinal, one of three co-captains this year along with fellow seniors Casey Clemensen and Reid Wenisch. The other two seniors on the squad are Alex Eichner and Alex Bixby.
Cardinal, a third-year varsity player, led the Raiders with 40 steals last season and also was fourth in points (224), third in rebounds (123) and second in assists (81).
Wenisch, who was a bench player last year, and Clemensen, who started a few games, also return. Bixby played JV last year as did Eichner.
“He (Eichner) needed to because of the people we had at that same position,” said Boyer. “And I’m seeing the leadership he gained at the JV level is going to carry over here.”
Other keys include juniors Isaac Hormann and Noah Peterson, who both played some varsity minutes last year and sophomores Brice Panning and Zach Schnabel.
“They are going to come up,” said Boyer. “We’re expecting some key things from them as well as Carter Clemensen and Kellen Erpenbach.”
Nate Nimitz, who was in JV last year, will do some split duty with JV and varsity this year
“He gives us an inside presence as well,” said Boyer. “Him and Alex (Eichner) and Zach Schnabel.”
Nimitz, who is listed at 6-4, is the only varsity player above 6-1.
“It’s no surprise to anyone in the conference,” said Boyer. We’re not blessed with great size. But what we lack in size, I truly believe we’ve got a lot of athletes out there and that’s going to make a difference in the game.”
What they lack in size, they will make up for it in toughness.
“We want our guys to be prepared, go out, work hard every night and have a toughness about them,” he said. “You don’t create toughness, they’ve got that and they build that off each other.”
Other top teams in the Minnesota River Conference, many of which are in Central’s section, figure to be Mayer Lutheran, Watertown, Jordan, Belle Plaine, Le Sueur-Henderson and Tri-City United.
Overcoming predictions is nothing new to Boyer because last year’s team was expected to be in seventh or eighth in conference and finished 18-9 overall and tied for third in the conference and Boyer expects this year’s squad to contend this year.
“Predictions are predictions,” said Boyer. “It just depends. You got to put the ball in the hole and you got to stop somebody on defense.”
Central will look to start the season strong because they play seven of their first 10 games at home, including co-hosting an annual tournament with the Central girls’ squad on Dec. 27.
“We got a nice home schedule to begin with, which will really help out,” said Boyer. ”We just love to have the great crowd support here. Our boys work hard and we love to play at home and we love it more when they follow us on the road.”
The Raiders open their season with home games against Le Sueur-Henderson on Dec. 5 and Glencoe-Silver Lake on Dec. 7 before traveling to face Watertown-Mayer on Dec. 10.
Contact Adam Gruenewald at [email protected]