West Noble could be in line for its first conference title since 1986. The Chargers have one of the elite scorers in the area and the state. Austin Cripe, a Bethel University commit, averaged 23 points per game during his junior season. Alongside big man Bradyn Barth, who became a real force late last season and finished with 7.4 points and three rebounds per game, the two should be a dangerous 1-2 punch. Senior Nevin Phares gives the Chargers some more size and length and looks to become a more consistent scorer but has shown the ability to score from all three levels. Seniors Derek Slone and Luke Schermerhorn also return after being solid contributors a year ago. Slone will help with the ball handling duties while Schermerhorn can be a threat from the perimeter.
Prairie Heights had a really nice first season under head coach Delmar Bontrager. The Panthers increased their win total by 10 and should improve upon their 13-9 record from last season. They should challenge for conference and sectional titles with the return of one of the top scorers in the conference in Chase Bachelor, who averaged 21 points, 6.6 rebounds and two assists last season. Isaiah Malone is a big man who can play inside or out and put up 14.6 points per game with 7.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per contest. He’s gotten taller and stronger during the offseason, now standing at 6-foot-7 with a seven-foot wingspan, which should make him more difficult to stop. Kamden Leedy, Leyton Byler and Logan Swygart also return for their senior seasons. Byler started every game last season and is a very solid defender, and Leedy and Swygart both look to take on larger roles this season. Matt Roberts and Messiah Solis look to make an impact this season, and Cade Bachelor comes in as a top freshman in the area.
The Cougars should still be pretty good coming into the 2022-23 season. Yes, they lost one of the state’s best players in Connor Essegian, who is already fitting in nicely up at Wisconsin. Also gone are Logan Gard and Ryan Schroeder. However, there are still several role players leftover who will take on new roles this season. Leading returner scorer Conner Lemmon is a known sharpshooter and stout defender has added to his game during the offseason and should be a double-digit scorer. Jackson Andrews returns as the team’s point guard. The key for him is getting this new group in line to remain a productive team. Drew Pliett transferred from Churubusco and should be inserted into the starting lineup. He scored about 13 points a game for the Eagles last season and will be another scoring threat for CN. Inside will be Sam Essegian, who played a lot and came up big, especially on the defensive end. His offensive development will be fun to watch. Isaiah Gard is another big man that will try to fill the shoes of his big brother. Landen Vice, Redick Zolman, Brayden Kirchner and Spencer Adams are tasked with creating depth for this year’s team.
The Blazers only two losses last season were to the aforementioned Cougars. And like Central Noble, Eastside will look different this season. Gone are Gabe Trevino, Nick Snyder, Owen Willard, Logan Fry and Hugh Henderson. Caeden Moughler and Santino Brewer are the lone returners with varsity experience, and Eastside hopes the addition of Brady Lehman will keep them from a significant drop off. Brewer is one of OTH’s Top 50 area players and will be the go-to guy for the Blazers.
The Eagles graduated a good amount of seniors from last season’s sectional championship team, but they do return one of their top players and a handful of role players. Ethan Bontrager is back after scoring 11.5 points per game and shooting 39 percent from three. He also hauled in three rebounds and two assists per game. Brogan Blue will patrol the paint for a Fremont team that doesn’t have a lot of size. Brody Foulk is a part of a good junior group and played a key role in helping the Eagles win the sectional title over Elkhart Christian. He hit four three-pointers in the second half. Conner Slee is another junior who could be another elite option from deep. He shot nearly 47 percent from three over the summer while also proving he’s more than just a shooter. Gage Cope will give them another post presence who can run the floor very well. Corbin Beeman is back and will give the Eagles another ball handler.
The Falcons took a huge step under the direction of Derek Hinen. Fairfield hopes not take a step back with only two returners from last year’s team. Seth Yoder and Tyson Frey are the two back on the team. Yoder scored 4.7 points per game while Frey averaged six points and 4.5 rebounds per contest. These two will have to step up and become the leaders while trying to bring along an inexperienced and young group behind them. Fairfield will have some size including seniors Dayton Lockwood and Braxton Davis and junior Noah Mast. Senior Caleb Miller, junior Alex Hofer and sophomore Brooks Custer will be competing for minutes as the Falcons search for other ball handlers and shooters.
The Warriors finished last year under .500 for the first since the 2014-15 season. They hope to find some stability with first-year coach Chandler Prible, who was the head coach at Eastern High School in Pekin. Prior to that, Prible was an assistant to Central Noble’s John Bodey, who is Prible’s father-in-law. Prible has a young roster to work with in his first year. His lone senior with significant varsity experience is Brady Yoder, who averaged 13.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game last season. Yoder started his career as mostly just an outside shooter but has notably improved his game to become a more all-around player. Luke Helmuth, Wade Springer, Wiley Minix and Max Engle logged varsity minutes last season but are expected to take on bigger roles this season. Newcomers include Jethro Hostetler, Owen Brill and Kamden Yoder. Westview lacks size so rebounding and post defense could be an issue
The Hornets return most everyone with varsity experience, but they will still have a lot of unknowns with several players coming back from major injuries the previous year. Dane Lantz is the team’s leading returning scorer at 10.7 points per game. Landon Herbert averaged 9.2 points per contest. Tyler Call missed a big chunk of the season last year but is back for his senior season. Andre Tagliferri also returns, along with Cam McGee. Lane King and newcomer Kyler Huscher will give Angola some size inside, and Micah Steury saw limited action last season but plans to play a bigger part this season.
The Railroaders were more competitive in the first year under Andrew Evertts. They hope to build on what they did last year and turn it into more wins. They have a good chance at doing that with five players who started a good amount returning. Garrett was led by its defense which allowed just over 50 points per game, the lowest average since the 2004-05 season. The issue for the Railroaders was the other end of the floor but another year in Evertts’ system hopes to become more chances at finding the bottom of the net. Kyle Smith is the team’s leading returning scorer at 7.3 points per game. Tyler Gater (5.9 ppg), Drayton Myers (4.9), Luke Coffman (4.4) and Konnor DeWitt (2.1) all expect to increase their averages with another offseason under the belts.
The Lakers plan on surprising teams this season after just a five-win campaign in 2021-22. Lakeland has a big group of seniors that hope to build on the experience they gained last season. Ben Keil leads the way and is one of the best scorers in the conference. He averaged 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals per game. Keil’s toughness is on display every night as he isn’t afraid to defend any spot on the court. Christian Troyer put up over 10 points a game last season and Tommy Curtis and Zeke Wachtman are another pair of seniors who returns for the Lakers. Both averaged just over six points a contest. Underclassmen Nate Keil and Justin Carlson both expect to make more of an impact this season.
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