Outside the Huddle keeps their eyes on several area teams outside of the four major conferences. While yours truly can’t exactly predict an order of finish like I can in those conferences, I can give you a handful of teams and players in the area to keep an eye on.
You are welcome.
TEAMS TO WATCH
You know the drill with Blackhawk Christian. They were just a few weeks away from a possible second straight state title and they return every notable player from that roster, led by Purdue signee Caleb Furst. The rest of the starting lineup in Zane Burke, Marcus Davidson, Callan Wood and Andrew McIntosh are back and furthered by the experience of juniors Jacob Boyer and Luke Lagrange. Gage Sefton and Josh Furst started to see more minutes as the season went on last year. Here is reality, conference or no, the Braves have every argument to make as the top team in the area.
“We return lots of experience. We’ve had a great fall, and our guys are ready to get back at it,” said Blackhawk Christian coach Marc Davidson.
Rob Westfall had to be happy with his first year at the helm of the program, going 12-12 and competing with some really strong programs. Will Shank (16 ppg) will return and is a hard charger at getting to the rim. Inside, he will have plenty of help from Chris Diwis and Jack Royster, both of which improved later in the 2019-20 season. Junior Luke Schlabach, sophomore Will Russell and freshman Devon Lewis will step into roles opened up by graduation.
“There is a great blend on this team of leadership and young talent. We return three of our five regular starters from last year and captains Will Shank and Chris Diwis have stepped up into a great leadership role this off-season. We have lots of great pieces and I’m excited to see how they start fitting together,” Westfall said.
The Panthers are another team that returns quite a bit into the new season. Caedmon Bontrager returns up front and is a match up problem for anyone and everyone at the rim. Bontrager averaged 20.7 points and 8.8 rebounds last season. Two more really intriguing returners are Carter Harman and Aiden Fetters; these are two tough as nails kids who don’t mind getting their hands dirty and are willing participants on both ends of the floor.
Seniors Corbin Moriarity, Grant Merkel, Blake Miller and Levi Hindle will return alongside that junior group.
Rarely does a change in coach bring as much excitement as it will in South Whitley this season. Legendary coach Chris Benedict takes over and has a stellar starting base to work with in Brett Sickafoose (23.7 ppg) and Drake Lewis (13 ppg). They are joined by five more guys in their senior class including a 6-foot-4 trio of Cameron Sapp, Andrew Swartz and Dale Reiff as well as 6-3 Aiden Hoffman. That kind of experience bodes well for Whitko and a more than 400 win coach. Whitko lists just one player of their top 10 at under 6-foot.
“Experience will help defensive toughness, discipline by him and the offensive firepower of two double-digit performers in Sickafoose and Lewis will lead to the Wildcats success. The focus will be on improving throughout the season while competing tough in the Three Rivers Conference to be playing their best come tournament time in March,” said Benedict.
Matt Moore takes over a team that will see the return of leading scorer Luke Adamiec (9.9 ppg). The Tigers played a whole litany of guys last year and were pretty balanced overall. What Moore brings to the table differently as a coach could really see this team change things up. Warsaw will continue to be a threat in the NLC. After taking over, Moore has really been diving into the nostalgia of the program and past successes, which there have been many of. Having him in place to remind the Tigers past, present and future of their historical value can only build the morale of their program.
It is rebuilding time at Manchester and new coach Eli Henson (over from Whitko), but the future is bright in what is in the pipeline. That may mean some lumps this year for the Squires. On the bright side, Weston Hamby (11.7 ppg/6.7 apg) is a stud for them in the backcourt and Max Carter brings another steady hand with varsity experience. There will be a lot of other holes for the Squires to fill though with junior Cade Jones returning after missing last season injured. Sophomore Maddox Zolman will also see crucial minutes.
“We want to play up tempo and want to be able to give plenty of guys an opportunity to make an impact at the varsity level,” Henson said.
Caleb Furst, Blackhawk Christian
C’mon, does Bounce really need to go there? Furst is an animal. A really, genuinely polite one when you aren’t on the court. But on the court, he is ferocious. The perk about Furst, and I’ve said it before but I will keep saying it, is that he keeps getting better. Caleb Furst never settles. And that is why he and his team are at the forefront of this area.
Will Shank, Canterbury
Shank has been the life blood of transition years for Canterbury. They will be passing the torch to a younger class again but for now, this is his program. He is a top tier player who can score on all three levels.
Caedmon Bontrager, Lakewood Park
A fit athletic specimen, Bontrager is going to be a force again this season as Lakewood Park works back to trying to capture a Sectional title. Every year, he gets stronger and more muscular. His summer was phenomenal and Bontrager is going to be playing the best basketball of his career. If you aren’t one that has made Lakewood Park a destination yet in recent years, you need to get there to see him.
PLAYERS ON THE RISE
Gage Sefton, Blackhawk Christian
The Braves are a really deep program and it slowed Sefton getting on the varsity court last season until later on in the year, for the most part. But when he did, and also what he did on the JV level, looked really smooth. You can tell that Sefton has a good pedigree and as just a sophomore, watch for his minutes to go up and him to get really good experience off the Braves bench in spots.
Carter Harman, Lakewood Park
Harman plays really hard all of the time. He is going to be a go getter and replacing Josh Pike’s winning effort is going to need to fall in his hands, likely as a lead guard. Harman’s speed, shooting and energy is really fun to watch and now becomes more critical in the Panthers’ success.
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