The Warriors are beneficiaries of two keys when it comes to being at the top of any conference: there is a good deal of talent back AND they will have several move ins that should immediately help move the needle in a race back to the top of the NECC. That starts with the returning guard duo of Wiley Minix and Luke Helmuth. Minix (13.2 points) is a tremendous shooter who can score at all three levels, while Helmuth (9.4 ppg/3.4 apg) has more lead guard tendencies and heady court vision, but has shown some knockdown shooting prowess of his own. Owen Brill (4.2 ppg) is also back as another really strong shooter. Other returners for Westview include Wade Springer, Kamden Yoder and Micah Miller.
New to the Warriors are three players new to the school. Wyatt Zepp is a transfer from Northridge and with his 6-foot-6 frame, he is expected to contribute big time on the interior. Kaden Grau, a sophomore, comes from Bluffton after averaging 9.6 points per game for the Tigers this season. The third newcomer for Westview is freshman Austin Schlabach, who has already received some big preseason praise and could easily be a varsity ready scorer and contributor immediately.
“If we can improve our on ball defense and compete better on the glass, we should take a step forward from last season,” said coach Chandler Prible.
Fairfield had a really good offseason and brings back nearly their entire roster to compete for a NECC title. That starts inside with Tyson Frey (8.4 ppg/5.5 rpg) and Noah Mast (7.8 ppg/4.5 rpg). Frey is a physical force around the rim and plays with a precision toughness. The 6-foot-7 Mast has a super long frame, an underrated jump shot and defends all five spots. Alex Hofer can help them some on the interior too thanks to his aggressive nature as a guard; he averaged 7.3 points per game last season.
The Falcons return four other guards with quality varsity time. Mitchell Miller can defend really well and is a great lead guard candidate while Brant Garber (yes, of those Fairfield Garbers) is a high quality shooter. Carson Smith (5 ppg) and Brooks Custer also return to the Fairfield lineup.
“We have a very positive outlook going into this season. We return a lot of experienced players who have spent time improving their skill levels,” said Fairfield coach Derek Hinen.
THE OTHERS (Listed Alphabetically)
Angola will be bolstered by one of the best scorers in the NECC from a season ago in Dane Lantz. He is able to score on multiple levels and is an aggressive player, averaging 14 points and two steals per game last season. Cameron McGee adds some ingenuity to the perimeter after averaging 6.3 points last season. Angola will also return Kyler Huscher.
The Hornets will see several players up from last year’s JV team to help add depth. Point guard Tommy Caswell will lead the newcomers in the back court, next to Ryan Stuckey and Ben Thomas. Newcomers to help at forward include Landon Leach and Max Tynan.
“We need to be in better shape than every team we play. If we do that and make them play our tempo we will be a tough team to beat,” said coach Brandon Appleton.
The Cougars join the ranks of teams with a new coach, but Ben Lemmon is no stranger to the sideline, now in his fifth year with the program and 17th year coaching in Noble County. He will get to bring back a big load of players, especially in the long highly touted Class of 2024. Leading that senior charge will be guards Jackson Andrews (5.8 ppg) and Drew Pliett (10.7 ppg). The duo compliments each other extremely well with their intense and pressure filled play. Fellow senior Spencer Adams will join them in backcourt play, himself raising his aggression and scoring the last couple of years, as will junior Redick Zolman (8.3 ppg), who is one of the team’s most credible scoring threats. Isaiah Gard (10.5 ppg/6 rpg) will be looked upon to lead on the inside after having a semi-breakout junior season while Brayden Kirchner also returns at forward.
Guard Nick Freeman leads a set of players who will look to join the varsity level and add immediate depth. Jayden Tilley, Carter Wilkinson and Simeon Gard will also look for time.
“Central Noble has a big opportunity to be successful in this upcoming season. We must work to move the ball on offense to find our advantage, then be prepared to execute. On the defensive end CN will have to work together and play team defense to have the opportunity to win games,” Lemmon said.
The Eagles will welcome a new coach in former Carrroll assistant Gabe Garman as they try to rebuild back into a conference powerhouse. He will start with a high output scorer in senior Joey Taylor, who saw action in just one varsity game last season due to a transfer. Taylor is incredibly fast, gets down hill at will and scored 20 points with eight rebounds and three assists in that taste of varsity action last season. Pairing him with a returning Gavin Huelsenbeck, who averaged 11.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in just three games last season, immediately shows that Churubusco will be looking different this season. Fellow senior Caden Ummel (11.3 ppg) is also back after leading the Eagles in scoring last season.
Brayden Bianski (4.2 ppg) and Mason Mast will both return as junior guards, as will sophomore forward Weston Ott (5.2 rpg). The Eagles will add in a pair of players to assist their depth in junior Carroll transfer guard Braylon McCoy and Carson Tonkel, a sophomore up from the JV.
“We have some pieces to our team that could help us make some noise in the conference this season. Everyday, we will need to focus on us and get 1% better than we were the day before. But, being successful means we will embrace our core values, and understand the grit and process that it takes to reach competitive greatness,” said Garman.
When it comes to rebuild, there is a full one underway in Butler, where a new coach and an almost entirely new lineup will take the court this season. Clayton Minnick will be the leading returning scorer at 8.5 points per game as he will play off guard alongside likely lead guard Ryder Reed (3.1 ppg). Those two returners will be joined by forward Loden Johnson (2.7 rpg).
Center Connor Abplanalp as well as wings Nolan Baker and Blake Lesser and athletic guard EJ Miller will also join the varsity team this season.
“In order for Eastside Basketball to be successful in terms of wins and losses we are going to have to continue to play hard, tough-nosed, physical defense. We will have to limit turnovers this season, and take good shots,” coach David Prokop said. Defensively we want to build on the previous years, offensively we are going to be playing a new style of offense and we want to put points on the scoreboard. This is all going to be a process and take time but we are excited to start the grind and get better each day.”
Fremont was a team who you could never look past last season, with their three point shooting prowess even leading them to an upset of SAC champion Wayne. They return one of the two biggest sharpshooters from that game in Conner Slee (12.8 ppg), who hit 51 percent of his shots from deep last season and is considered one of the best shooters in Northeast Indiana. In the backcourt, he will be matched up with charge taking magnet Corbin Beeman (6.6 ppg/4.3 apg) and Colten Guthrie (3 ppg); strong defender Cayden Hufnagle also returns. Inside, the Eagles return Bryce Parnin (3.8 ppg/1.4 bpg), a soaring rebounder with rim protection qualities in his blocked shots.
While Fremont won’t add too many new pieces, combo guard/forward Ethan Grimm is one of the more intriguing ones. He has a post frame at 6-foot and rebounds very well, but has a knack for getting downhill off the perimeter and knocking down quality mid to deep range shots. Guard Ryan Baker will also look to add depth to the Fremont back court.
“Our attitude and effort almost always determines the quality of our basketball. When our attitudes are positive and our effort is maxed out, we are a tough team to deal with. We can’t wait for the town of Fremont to come fill The Cage, so we can show them what we have been working on,” said coach Josh Stuckey.
After a tough go of things for nearly the last decade, there is a lot of confidence at Garrett this season after a great preseason scrimmage and with a roster that returns eight guys with varsity experience and a lot of athleticism and shooting prowess. Parker Reed (7.5 ppg) and Jaxon Robinson (5.5 ppg) are two combo guard/forwards who can shoot the ball well and have really nice bounce. Drayton Myers (7.2 ppg) is another quality shooter who handles the ball well and with confidence, while Luke Coffman (4.7 ppg) is also back with substantial back court experience.
On the interior, the Railroaders will return David Westropp and Jacob Gonya, while Jakob Hoover and Royce Fuentes return to the backcourt with some experience as well. Two freshmen – Carter Coffman and Kohen Smith – could contribute immediately as well.
“Our guys have worked incredibly hard in the off-season. This Garrett team will look a lot different than Garrett teams from the past several years. As long as everyone stays committed and believes in our potential, we should have a breakout year and achieve a lot of success,” coach Andrew Evertts said. “There is a lot of excitement in Garrett right now. These guys have put in the work, now we just have to go out and make it happen!”
Not much information is available regarding Hamilton, but it really is a positive move to bring in Maine hoops legend Chase Holden to coach the program. His history should bring a level of excitement to the program that there hasn’t been much of during the recent lean years.
Hamilton isn’t going to have much experience and players who haven’t contributed to the varsity level much, especially on the scoring end, but it will intriguing to see in the long run if Holden taking over the program can be a difference maker.
Lakeland is coming off their best season since 2010 with 16 wins last time around. Nate Keil returns for his senior season as one of the most athletic players in the NECC, averaging 12 points per game last season. Sophomores Kyle Hartsough (4.5 ppg) and Keyan Arroyo could be a very big threat in the backcourt with their speed and precision. A third sophomore, Keegan Merrifield, is 6-foot-4 and can really help patrol the paint for the Lakers. Junior shooter Justin Carlson and sophomore defender Levi Cook also return for the Lakers.
Juniors Chuck Schackow and Anthony Khanchareun are both back after limited varsity time last season. Landon Jaeger, Myles Edwards, Cole Riehl and Carter Crouse are all also in line to step into roles and contribute pretty quickly with many in the area being high on Riehl heading into his freshman season.
“After a great summer, we have the potential to equal or exceed our win total from last year,” coach Chris Keil said. “Should be 10 deep and super tough on defense and super skilled on offense.”
Even with a lot of players graduating across the NECC, no program sees as much turnover as Prairie Heights, who will return just 5.7 points per game from their 55.2 they scored per contest last season. That means that immediately everyone will have a critical role to fill. Cade Bachelor (2.3 ppg) is the leading returning scorer after being sixth on the team in scoring last season as a freshman. If he takes a similar path in growth as older brother Chase did however, Cade’s stock could rise immensely this season. Other Panther returners include juniors Lance Speck and center Jeremiah Godsey, as well as senior Messiah Solis.
Freshman Jake Stoy has already captivated some in the area with his high level of activity on both ends of the court. Outside of Stoy, everyone else joining the Panthers is up from the JV squad with Gabe Katich being the only post of that group. Prairie Heights will be stocked with guards and wings looking to prove themselves in Hayden Culler, Caston Day, Lane Yoder, Leo Hare, Keegan German, Brady Strater and Caleb Freed.
“We will need to find guys to score the basketball and guard at the varsity level,” said coach Delmar Bontrager.
The returning champs have their work cut out for them as they have to replace nearly everyone from their roster a season ago, including all world scorer Austin Cripe. Luckily for the Chargers, they have one of the area’s more versatile big men back in Bradyn Barth, who is coming off a stellar summer with 5 Star. Barth averaged. 16.1 points on 61.3 percent shooting last year and stepped up majorly when teams focused in on Cripe; he also added 6.3 rebounds per game. The only other Charger returning with varsity experience is guard David Sloan, who is long at 6-foot-4 to help out on the wing or rebounding.
6-foot-3 junior forward Jordan Eash will be one of the guys moving up to step up, alongside classmate Isaac Mast. From there, it will be sophomores who will have to be in critical roles for West Noble with Trevor Steele, Nolan Kelly and Mason Taylor all up from the junior varsity. Freshman guard Aiden Replogle will also have the chance to earn quality minutes.
“We come into this season with two experienced players returning. Our young backcourt had a successful season for the JV last year and will now be asked to step into varsity roles. This group had a good summer and will look to build off of that to start the season. Bradyn Barth will have an opportunity to show more of his versatility this year,” coach Ethan Marsh said.
BOUNCE’S NECC PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
3. Central Noble
5. West Noble
11. Prairie Heights
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