A lot of major pieces back for teams at the top of the ACAC, though the defending tournament champions lost a lot. How does the balance of power shift in 2020-21?
If you have been paying attention to our Top 50 Boys Basketball Player Countdown then the “impact players” shouldn’t surprise you so we will be brief, but keep an eye on those players on the rise, all young men who are NOT in our preseason Top 50.
NOTE: The order of teams listed is Bounce’s personal predicted order of finish. Don’t sue me.
South Adams Starfires
Like in football season, South Adams was essentially built for this season. Two years ago, they played only freshmen and sophomores and it showed some dividends last season. Now as a group loaded with upperclassmen, seven returners to be exact, the Starfires have their eyes on the conference title. They did beat last year’s ACAC champion Bluffton during conference tournament play; Bluffton’s only loss to a conference opponent on the season. Last year, South Adams increased to 13 wins from two the previous season as the sixth biggest win increase in the state.
Shouldn’t be hard to push further this year with 40 points of guard production back and every single significant player planned to return. James Arnold (16.4 ppg/6.3 rpg) is at the forefront of production, but Trey Schoch (14 ppg) is right there with him. Stop me if you’ve heard these names before, because this is how 1A sports work, but the entire team comes off the football field. Nick Miller, Brayden Gilbert and Timmy Davidson are big physical presences in the middle. Aidan Wanner (9.6 ppg) joins the returning guard production. Rumors swirl if Drew Stutzman will return to the court or not, but if he does that is another high production athlete to add to South Adams’ depth.
When you are the defending conference champion and return the best player from the ACAC in 2019-20, that is a pretty good launching off place for new coach Karl Grau. Hayden Nern (17.4 ppg) developed into a big time scorer when Bluffton needed a leader and not only did he push them to stay relevant, they won the conference title. Juniors Harrison Schreiber and Lukas Hunt return as well to add a mixture of poise and physicality to the lineup. To fill in their depth and try to defend their ACAC title, Bluffton will rely on some seniors to step in. Reece Johnston, Kaden Gerber and Will Ball will all need to play big after each logging few varsity minutes last season.
Junior Max Stoppenhagen and sophomores Andrew Ball and Andrew Onuegbu will also join the Bluffton lineup.
Jay County Patriots
The Patriots are trying to position themselves back towards the top of the conference again coming off a third place finish a year ago with leading scorer Ethan Dirksen (8.8 ppg/4.5 rpg) returning for them. Fellow junior Gavin Muhlenkamp will also be crucial in getting Jay County back to form and sophomore Bennett Weitzel had more than his fair share of quality moments last year as well. Quinn Faulkner will return for his junior year after giving 14 minutes a game last year off the bench. There will be no returning seniors for this team.
Adams Central Flying Jets
The Flying Jets lost just two players to graduation, but crucial ones. It will be evident pretty quickly for them what the other guys learned as youngsters last season. Angel Torres is the only returning senior and will be joined in the class by Chase Green and Braden Light. Behind them, there is a decent amount of experience, but still a lot of youth. Sophomore Ethan Poling is the top returning scorer at eight points per game and will be a post presence. Juniors Braysen Yergler, Ethan Brown and Nick Neuenschwander all return as well and can add some speed and defensive energy. Juniors Kam Brown and Klayton Terrell and freshmen Zac Wurm and Ryan Tester could compete for minutes.
“We do return a lot of players with varsity experience but they will need to move into more of the “go-to” type of players than they were last year. All in all, we will be a fairly young team as six of the top seven players are underclassmen,” Adams Central coach Aaron McClure said.
“There are also a couple of freshman in a strong class of 2024 that may see some varsity action. I believe we will be competitive with most teams on our schedule. We hope to utilize our quickness in pushing the ball up and down the floor a little bit and trying to spread teams out to allow for driving lanes to basket. Defensively we should be pretty solid in the half-court as our guys will play very hard. While it sounds cliché, this will be a team that improves throughout the season as they figure out their individual roles and grow in those.”
The Patriots are working their way back up the conference ladder after a complete rebuild kicked off last season. Now in his third year as coach, Adam Gray has his system established and the players in place to at least look better this season. Luke Saylor (12.5 ppg) had some really stellar moments as a freshman and showed that he could have a lot of weight put on his shoulders. The Patriots will have just two seniors planned to be part of the lineup in Danny Bauer and Drew Lutz. Dalton Wasson (4.1 ppg) will be the top returner behind Saylor with fellow junior Justice Jones and sophomores Nyles Knapke and Tanner Whitman looking to score minutes.
“We will be very young again and are going to be led by a sophomore, Luke Saylor. We will shoot the ball much better this year than last year, and are planning to play with more pace,” Gray said. “We are looking to bounce back from the disappointment of a year ago and have had a very good fall. Last year, we could have easily flipped seven games from losses into wins, and our kids have been using that as a driving force.”
Southern Wells Raiders
New players and new roles will be abound for the Raiders this season. Bronson Rheinhart (6 ppg) will be their top returning scorer and the Raiders have a lot more to replace. Coach Kyle Penrod will also return Austin Harris, Owen Vickrey and Tanner Johnson with some varsity experience with Southern Wells. Intrigue comes in the form of two transfers from Whitko, William Rickerd and Keith Miller.
“We are going to play fast and look to get up a lot of threes,” Penrod said. “We have nicknamed our new playing style ‘dash and splash’ which the kids seem pretty excited about.”
Woodlan was hit hardest by graduation and it is just hard to know this preseason how they will replace all of that production. Joe Reidy (16.2 ppg/8 rpg) is back as one of the top juniors in the area, but the Warriors return just 4.7 points per game behind him and that is an uphill climb. Simon Handerson is in better shape than a year ago to join Reidy and Nick Jones as returning juniors. Brennan Donovan will be the only senior on the roster this time around and saw quality minutes spelling last season’s senior class. Freshman Braden Smith has some hype around him so he will be one to watch in his transition to the high school level. Woodlan’s depth will come from sophomores Dawson Lichty and Alex Miller as well as junior Heritage transfer Dakota Sparks.
“With the graduation of six Seniors (1-4 year letter winner and 3-3 year letter winners) and the limitations that were placed on us this summer, there are definitely a lot of questions needing answers as we head into this season. With that said, we have some great pieces to work with,” Woodlan coach John Baker said.
James Arnold, South Adams
Arnold is going to be coming off a great football season. He is a true leader for this team and a do-it-all scorer. The Starfires will go as Arnold goes, good thing that he is usually headed in an upward trajectory.
Hayden Nern, Bluffton
If there was a conference player of the year to be given out, it would have been Nern’s. He captained Bluffton to an ACAC title and will have them in the hunt again.
Joe Reidy, Woodlan
Reidy has bulked up over the offseason and is looking like a rim running threat heading into the new season. He is, by default, going to have to do a lot of everything for Woodlan.
PLAYERS ON THE RISE
Trey Schoch, South Adams
A tremendous spot up shooter, Schoch has become adept at getting to the rim when people run him off the line. Creating his own shot and not settling makes him more dangerous in the lineup but make no mistake he is still killer from three point range.
William Rickerd, Southern Wells
Rickerd is a wild card as he moves to the Raiders from Whitko. He was a steady hand in an often frantic paced Wildcat backcourt a year ago. Ricked has a high basketball IQ and doesn’t mind beating around to get a rebound. He plays under control and under the radar, which really helps him slip in with key baskets at key moments.
Luke Saylor, Heritage
There were games last year where Saylor looked like he could quickly become the best player in the conference in time. That isn’t a bad look for a freshman. Coach Adam Gray says that he has grown about three inches and that makes him so much more dangerous, especially as he matures and adds muscle to his slight frame. Watch for Saylor to really establish himself as a top 5 player in the conference.
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