Tri-County prep boys basketball teams look for improvement playing in pandemic season

All the prep boys basketball teams in the Tri-County area are striving for better records and outcomes in the 2020-21 season but will have to do trying to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Augusta head coach Chris Schmitt, during games, student-athletes will wear masks and the game balls will be sanitized and swapped out regularly. There will be no jump ball this year, as visiting teams will receive the basketball to start the game. This is to protect officials. Practices are structured with the safety of all in mind. Temperatures are taken, basketballs are swapped, frequent sanitation breaks, and social distancing as much as possible.

Osseo-Fairchild head coach Tim Popple said that the pandemic is forcing programs to "keep all three levels separate and that will be mean late practices for the older kids do to limited gym space."

And the pandemic has made scheduling difficult. Fall Creek and Augusta have played their games as scheduled but Eleva-Strum's scheduled has been affected and Osseo-Fairchild won't begin play until this week.

Fall Creek had the best record of the Tri-County region's boys' basketball teams. The Crickets finished on a late run to a 12-13 record, losing in the regional tournament championship game. FC is off to a 5-0 start so far largely due to an experienced line-up. This season, the Crickets return three starters and their top four scorers from last season. Returning starters include: Luke Olson (6’4 senior) who averaged 12.4 ppg. and was selected Second Team All-Conference. He also led the team in blocks with 36. Jayden Fitch (6’5 senior) returns with a 13.2 scoring average, which led the team, and 8.3 rebounds per game. He was selected All-Conference Honorable Mention. The third starter is Teigen Ploeckelman (6” senior) who had an 11 ppg. avg. and led the team in assists and steals last year. Fall Creek also returns Soren Johnson (6’4 junior) who ended up the team’s fourth leading scorer with 5.4 ppg., 3.7 rpg and was second on team with 26 blocks. Nate Sorensen (6’ senior) also returns along with Jack Monnier (6’ senior) who saw action off the Cricket bench last season.

Eleva-Strum returns its top scorer Nick Higley from last season's 8-16 squad along with returning lettermen such as seniors Ethan Karlstad and Mitch Olson and junior Sawyer Deetz. The Cardinals are 1-1 so far.

Augusta is off to an 0-4 start and the Beavers were already in a challenge in replacing seven lettermen from last season's 9-14 squad. Back for Augusta this season are Dalton Robinson (Jr.), Marcus Livingston (Jr.) , Tyler Brixen (Jr.) , Chase Stensen-Veenendall (Sr.), and Hunter Kirchoff (Jr.). Dalton started every game last year for Augusta (averaging 9.3 points/game), while Livingston, Brixen, Stensen-Veenendall, and Kirchoff each saw some varsity time.

"We will have to find a way to replace a lot of scoring and rebounding from last year's team. We will have to do that with only one senior on the roster this year. This year, we will have to use our depth and our athleticism to our advantage. To be successful, we will try to speed teams up and play fast." Schmitt said.

Osseo-Fairchild finished 8-15 last season and returns lettermen Garrett Koxlein, the team's leading scorer, Parker Gehrmann - guard Ben Gitto - guard, Garrett Loesel - guard, Brice Shimon - guard and Dayne Vojtik - forward. The team lost seniors Ryan Myhers, Riley Mcillquham, Trevor Hammer, Coltan Dahl, Keelan Chumas.

"Conditioning will be key this year," Popple said, "We had a very limited off season program and have not been able to play much until now. That with the fact that they have to wear masks will make it challenging to play at a fast pace."

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