Tri-County Area Prep Boys Basketball Preview

The prep boys' basketball season for 2021-22 for Tri-County Area teams gets underway fully this week.

Fall Creek begins defense of its Western Cloverbelt and WIAA Division 4 regional titles Thursday evening, Dec. 2 at Osseo-Fairchild. FC won its season opener Monday over Eleva-Strum handily.

The Crickets bring back three letter winners in 6-5 senior Soren Johnson (7.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG); 5-11 senior Cameron Martzke (4.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG); and their leadering returning scorer sophomore Bo Vollrath (11.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG) who received honorable mention all-conference on last season's team which finished with a 19-6 overall record, 11-1 in the WCC.

However, that still leaves four graduated senior starters and a lot of size to replace in Luke Olson - (13.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Jayden Fitch ( 20.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg); Nathan Sorenesen - (3.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and Teigen Ploeckelman - (12.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg).

"We need to replace some outstanding graduated players.," FCHS head coach Rick Storlie said. "The quick transition from JV to varsity play will be a huge factor in our success. Our JV team posted a very impressive 18-2 record last year and our C squad went 19-0. We are confident these young men are up to the challenge. Our Outside shooting needs to improve this year as well to be where we think we can be."

It's this winning mentality which Storlie hopes can carry the Crickets until their experience builds up on varsity. Fall Creek boys have won ten regional championships under Coach Storlie, entering his 23rd season as head coach. Including a state tournament appearance in 2009, they have won six regional titles in the past ten seasons.

"We are Western Cloverbelt Conference defending champions. We know we lost some very good players, but feel we have a solid core that should be able to compete in the always tough conference race. We have won three conference championships in the past ten years. As well as a pair of runners up finishes. So, our program always prepares to make a run at the top spot. Yet, we know there are some very good players, teams and coaches in our league that make the task very difficult but we hope to be a factor and play our best basketball at the end of the season."

The Crickets face an Osseo-Fairchild which lost its opener to Cochrane-Fountain City last week and fell to Augusta on Tuesday. They went 5-13 last season, 3-11 in the WCC. O-F returns lettermen in Carter Vold- senior center; Michael Ziegler- senior forward; Ethan Wathke- senior point guard ; Keyton Boettcher- senior guard and Brody Seefeldt- junior forward. The Thunder will have to replace starters Garrett Koxlien- leading scorer and rebounder, Garrett Loesel, Parker Gehrmann, Ben Gitto and Dayne Vojtik.

"Defense will be a high priority and getting the ball up the court in transition effectively," OFHS head coach Tim Popple said. "If we do those things well then a middle of the pack finish in WCC is goal we can reach but we can also make a good showing in playoffs too."

Augusta's win over Osseo-Fairchild puts them at 2-0, right on track for an exciting season of basketball according to head coach Chris Schmitt.

"I really believe we have an opportunity to compete with all of the great teams at the top of our conference," Schmitt said. "0We are hoping that the success of our fall sports translates into success on the basketball court. We are in a half-sectional with a lot of great programs, but I expect our guys to compete with every team we face. With that being said, we want to get Augusta Basketball back where it belongs, competing for conference championships and regional championships."

The reason for this optimism is the return of so many starters and letter winners in Dalton Robinson, Sr. (11.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2 apg); Brennan King, Jr. (11.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 apg); Tyler Brixen, Sr. (7.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.4 apg); Drew Jacobs, Jr. (7.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.2 apg); Aiden Anderson, Sr. (6.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.3 apg); Mitchell Johnson, Sr. (3.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Hunter Kirchoff, Sr. (2.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Marcus Livingston, Sr. (1.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg); Logan Barnett, Jr. and Cashton Leslin, So. The only graduated senior was Chase Stensen-Veenendall.

This optimism is also in the wake of a 4-18 overall record form last season, 0-10 in the Dairyland Conference Large Division. But, just as the Beavers went from worst to first football, Schmitt is confident they can do the same in hoops' too.

"Offensively, we have a number of guys that can make plays and score the basketball," Schmitt said. "Combine that with our athleticism and shooting ability, we have the potential to be really tough to stop. Our success will be contingent on your ability to get stops defensively and rebound the basketball. We made defense and rebounding a point of emphasis in the summer, and we are hoping that success translates to this basketball season."

Eleva-Strum finished at .500 last season, 8-8 overall and 5-5 in the Large Dairyland. However the top scorers from that team - Nick Highley 16 ppg & 6 rpg, Ethan Karlstad 13 ppg & 3 rpg, and Mitchell Olson 10 ppg & 8 rpg. - have graduated. The Cardinals return lettermen Sawyer Deetz 4ppg, 8 rpg, Brady Monson 4 ppg, 3 rpg, Connor Iverson 4 ppg 1 rpg, and Wyatt Miland 4 ppg and 4 rpg for this season.

"If you look on paper I am sure most people would see we graduated 70 percent of our offense and almost all of our 3 point shooting and say our expectations are low," E-S head coach Paul Janson said. " But I really like our kids. I think we expect to be successful. We have a large group of senior leaders and some kids that will come up from JV and be able to help. My expectations are that we will get better as the season goes on and get to the point where we can compete with everyone in our conference and region."

Janson lists the factors that can help the Redbirds, 0-2 so far this season, exceed those expectations and compete in what he believes will be a tough league.

" We should be big and hopefully deep," Janson said. "A lot of kids have put some time in the weight room and that should pay off. We are going to have to defend at a high level. It may come down to shooting and how well we can teach/learn our systems in a relatively short period of time. I think our conference will be tough. I would probably put Whitehall and Melrose-Mindoro as favorites. Blair-Taylor graduated a ton, but you know that they will be well coached. Augusta will be playing with a lot of confidence coming off of their football season. And C-FC was very young last season and returns a lot. If we are making predictions we should probably start at the bottom and earn our way up."

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