The 2018-2019 boys basketball season begins with at least a couple new developments. For the first time since the 1980s, venerable coach Thomas Vix won’t be on the sideline in Rushford. The Trojans will have a new head man. Chris Drinkall is the only new coach in the county. Elsewhere, Kingsland takes its silver and black attack to the SEC. Only two of the seven Journal covered schools finished above .500 a season ago. Those top two teams graduated a lot and the other five are looking to improve upon sub-par seasons. Like the seven covered girls teams, there is a bit of uncertainty as to what is what. Five All-Conference and five All-conference Honorable Mention athletes do return. Four guys have a fair shot at surpassing 1,000 career points.
The last boys teams standing a season ago were the Rushford-Peterson Trojans. Tom Vix’s group won Section 1A in convincing fashion. After a two year hiatus, they returned to the state tournament. There, they finished as consolation runner-up (6th). The Trojans rode a great senior group to an 11-6 TRC finish, a 24-9 overall campaign. But it will be a reboot this season. Vix leaves as coach and long-time assistant, 2000 R-P graduate, Chris Drinkall takes over. With the departures of All-TRC players Ben Ansell and Jake Paulson, All-TRC HM guys Dawson Dahl and Payton Hahn, four starters are gone. Those guys combined to average 37.6 points, 16.9 rebounds, and 7.4 steals per game. Point guard Landon Skalet is the only starter to return. He is the only senior on a team that has five juniors and seven sophomores plus two freshman. Skalet’s a good one, an All-TRC pick a season ago (10.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.0 SPG) much due to his long-range prowess (79 made threes in 176 attempts, 44.8%). He has hit at least one three in 26 straight games. From there, sophomores Luke O’Hare (6’2” F > 5.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.4 APG), a mid-range aficionado, and Kobe Lind (6’1” G/F > 2.9 PPG, 1.3 RPG), return as full-timers. Vinnie Mason (6’4” Jr. F/C), Trey Olson (5’8” So. G), and Ben Wieser (6’4” So. C) will be in for big rolls (to name three guys). The Trojans open at home with Moose Lake (a boys/girls doubleheader). R-P has the Decorah Border Battle (with the hosts) and a home Holiday game (Randolph). Other home non-cons are Kingsland, Hayfield, and Houston. Road non-cons are Mayer Lutheran (in Roseville), Crestwood (Cresco), SG, and G-E-T.
The second longest lasting Journal covered team last year was Kingsland. The Knights rode a big senior class to a pair of play-off wins and some post-season hardware (Sub-Section Runner-Up). John Fenske’s guys fell to Section Champ R-P in the Section Final Four, finishing a fine season 8-10 in the TRC, but 17-12 overall. Like the Trojans, the Knight system will reboot. Six of Kingsland’s top eight from last year graduated, including All-TRC pick Zach Bubany, All-TRC HM guys Ian Meisner and Jackson Rindels. They lost 70% of their scoring, 83% of their rebounding, and 80% of their assists. There are only two full-time holdovers. One is a very good one though, senior Wyatt Pruter. The 6’2” guard was All-TRC last year after leading team double-K in scoring (15.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.5 SPG) and made three’s (67). He shot 75% from the free throw line. Pruter put up 26 points on vaunted Caledonia, while ripping Chatfield for 29 and 27. With a season like his junior, he can attain 1,000 career points. The Knights second full-time returnee is Reid Kruegel (5’11” Sr. G > 3.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.3 APG). Pruter played in 28 games last season, Kruegel all 29. The rest of the Knight returnees played in around 28/29 games combined! Kingsland has six more seniors (eight total); Austin Stephans (6’0” F), Bradyn Willford (6’0” G/F), Jacob Welch (6’0” F), Josh Warren (6’1” C), Nick Wernimont (6’2” G), and Reese Wolf (6’1” G). They have a pair of tall juniors in Zach Houser (6’4” F) and Brady Musel (6’5” C), plus the only sophomore on varsity a year ago, Lucas Howard (5’9” G). For their inaugural SEC season, the Knights begin at L/P. They have the Decorah Border Battle (Crestwood) and two holiday games (vs. Southland, at Houston). Other road non-cons are R-P, Goodhue, Hayfield, and BP. Home non-cons are D-E, Z-M, Chatfield, FC, and USC. Six of Kingsland’s last seven games are at home.
Returning the most starters of the Journal covered teams is Houston. The Hurricanes, in their first year under Trent Vix, went 5-8 in the SEC, 11-17 overall. They won a play-off game but lost to R-P in the 1A Round of 16. The ‘Canes bring back four starters. Senior James Hongerholt heads the cast. The 6’2” G/F was All-SEC 2nd Team last season, averaging 17.4 points per game and close to a double-double. The long versatile scorer is closing in on a 1,000 career points. Alex Van Gundy, a 6’0” junior guard, is also back. He was named All-TRC HM while averaging 15.4 points per game. The duo combined for over 900 combined points last year, making them one of the highest scoring returning tandems in the SEC. Point guard Connor Van Gundy (5’11” Sr. G) and Mikkel Schutte (6’2” Jr. G), whose brother Micah was a stand-out on Houston’s excellent 2015-2016 squad, round out Houston’s returning foursome. Hongerholt is a third-year starter while the Van Gundys and Schutte enter their third years on varsity. Houston went iron-man last year, playing its top five big minutes. That could change, as they have six seniors, the trio above, Jacob Becker (5’10” C), and additions, stand-out football players Jaytin Millen (5’10” C) and Kyle Twite (6’0” C). Houston also has six juniors. The ‘Canes open by hosting M-C. They have the Decorah Border Battle (Central Elkader) and Holiday games (at FC, vs. Kingsland). Like the girls, they play the Knights a trio of times. Other road non-cons are R-P, W-K, L-A, and Cannon Falls. Home non-cons are Kenyon-Wanamingo, Alden-Conger, and Cotter.
The team with the highest probability of drastically increasing its win total this season are the Chatfield Gophers. Jeff DeBuhr’s group went 2-16 in the TRC last year, 4-22 overall. They fell to Caledonia in the 1AA Round of 16. Chatfield graduated four full-time seniors, but no All-TRC players. They return four of their top five scorers, a cast headed by sophomore Reid Johnson. The 6’1” guard led the Gophers in scoring, rebounding, and steals last season (11.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.7 SPG), whilst notching a 30-point game, all exceptionally rare for a freshman. Johnson (parents Rushford natives) was named All-TRC HM. Back also are Josef Fahrenholtz (6’6” Sr. C > 8.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 48% FGs), Landon Bance (5’10” Jr. G > 7.0 PPG, 36.8% from three, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 APG), and Ben Brogan (5’11” Sr. G > 5.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.0 SPG), giving the Gophers size, shooting, and intangibles respectively. Seth Allen (5’9” Sr. G > 3.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.9 APG) is a fifth full-time returnee. Kobe Schott (6’0” Sr. F), Jack Tuohy (6’3” Sr. F), Tryston Morlang (5’8” Sr. G), and Zach Roline (6’2” Sr. C) also saw action in double-digit games. The Gophers have seven seniors. They open versus PEM. Chatfield has the TRC/HVL Showdown at Mayo Civic Center (Z-M) and the WSU Holiday Tourney (Lanesboro, Cochrane-Fountain City). Other road non-cons are Kingsland and Cannon Falls. Home non-cons are BP, Triton, Stewartville, and Pine Island.
In Mabel, it’s year two for Russell Larson commanding the blue, red, and white. The Cougars went 4-9 in the SEC last year, 8-18 overall. They fell to Houston in a 1A play-in game. Mabel-Canton lost four regulars, but they return four regulars, including three starters. The cast is headed by fourth-year player Drew Wyffels. Short in build, the 5’9” point guard isn’t short on stats. The very quick Wyffels averaged team bests in scoring (14.0), assists (7.3), and steals (2.5) while adding a highly respectable guard rebound number (5.3). He’s a threat to put a “five” up in three-plus categories every night. Wyffels made the All-SEC 1st Team a season ago and should clear 1,000 career points when it is all said and done. He’s got help down low. M-C returns its top two rebounders in the form of rugged Blake Henry (6’1” Sr. F > 8.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG) and long Dylan Loppnow (6’4” Sr. C > 8.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.6 BPG). The later shot 53% from the field. Versatile “in between” guy Ryan Kuhn (5’10” Sr. G > 6.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.7 SPG) rounds out the big returnees. After him, the Cougars have roles to fill. No other returnee played in 20 games last year, though Brandon Schneider (5’9” G), Cody Lueck (5’8” G), and Jon Smith (5’11” F) give M-C seven seniors. The Cougars also have six juniors. M-C opens by hosting Hayfield. They have the Decorah Border Battle (South Winn) and Holiday games (vs. FC, at Southland). Home non-cons include Hayfield (opener), Alden-Conger, Cotter, and Cannon Falls. Road non-cons are L-A and Decorah.
In Lanesboro, the Burros will look to notch a few more wins than last year. It was a tough season, as Chris Hanson’s group went 1-12 in the SEC, 2-24 overall. They fell at Hayfield in a 1A play-in game. The Burros scored 60-plus points just once. They have room for optimism. Three starters return, including their top two scorers. Senior Carson Schwichtenberg, an All-SEC 2nd Team performer, heads that cast. The 6’0” guard led Lanesboro in scoring (15.4), assists (3.0), and steals (1.6) while adding a team second-best rebound total (4.8). He’s hit 50-plus three’s in back-to-back season. His top teammate is All-SEC HM pick Andrew Luck. Like Schwichtenberg, the 6’1” senior G/F is a fourth year player. Luck was the team’s second leading scorer (12.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.0 APG). From there, Connor Ruen (6’0” Sr. F > 4.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.7 APG), Greysen Higbe-Hurrah (6’1” Sr. F > 3.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG), Sawyer Johnson (5’11” So. G > 4.3 PPG, 1.2 RPG) and Joe Gathke (6’0” Sr. F > 1.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG) were essentially full-timers. The Burros lost just two big-minute guys, just 8 PPG total. Garrett Melander (5’11” G) and Hunter Gehrke (6’1” F) round out a 7-man senior group. They start at Schaeffer. They have the Decorah Border Battle (Kee) and WSU Tourney (L-A, Chatfield). Other home non-cons are with Cotter, Cannon Falls, Goodhue, FC, Christian Life Academy (boys/girls doubleheader), and Alden-Conger. They have just one pure road non-con game, at Cochrane-Fountain City (Wis.). They play Randolph again at the Target Center (b/g doubleheader).
Fillmore Central enters the 2018-2019 season like a couple other county teams (Kingsland and R-P). The Falcons graduated a lot off last year’s squad, seven of their top nine players (including four starters). Aaron Mensink’s group went 3-14 in the TRC last season, 8-20 overall. They won a play-off game but fell to W-K in the 1A Round of 16. FC had two All-TRC HM guys. Nate Haugerud graduated. Josh Peters returns. The 5’10” guard’s senior year of basketball might be just like his season of football. He may have to carry a healthy load. He is the lone returning starter, the team’s top scorer from last year (10.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 2.0 SPG). Peters nailed a team-best 61 three’s a season ago and is the top athlete. He accounts for 284 of FC’s 410 total returning points. From there, only interior bruiser Brock Walsh (5’11” Sr. F/C > 3.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG) was a full-timer last year. They are two of four seniors with Tyler Raaen (5’8” G) and Logan Dyreson (5’11” G). FC’s top sophomore on varsity last year, strong leaper Hadrian Williams (5’9” Jr. F) will also be in the fold. Sophomore speedster Carson Kiehne (5’6” G) is another big-minute candidate. The Falcons aren’t big, with no player listed as taller than 6’0”. They open by hosting Goodhue. FC has the HVL/TRC Showdown at the Mayo Civic Center (Triton) and Holiday games (vs. Houston, at M-C). Their other road non-cons are GM, Lanesboro, Schaeffer Academy (coached by former Chatfield head man Tom Bance), and Kingsland. Home non-cons are Goodhue (the opener), L-O, and SG.