In all likelihood, this season’s boys Cornbelt Conference title is Canistota’s to lose.
The second-ranked Hawks have a little bit of everything needed for a successful season – speed, experience, balance – as well as veteran players leading the push for the program’s second Class B state tournament appearance in three years.
Senior guard Alex Robertson averaged 12.5 points and 6.1 assists last season and gives the defending conference champions a talented point guard to run the offense, while 6-foot-3 senior forward Cody Bunger (12.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is an athletic presence in the post. The duo has been starting since they were eighth graders.
Canistota (19-4 last season) also returns 6-5 senior Jason VanWinkle (12.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg) to solidify the paint along with seniors Boone DeKramer, Eric Tieszen and Tyler Decker and junior guard Nick Hofer, all of whom are excellent all-around athletes with high expectations.
“We should have a very successful season,” said Hawks coach Pat Jolley. “(But) our schedule is very challenging. The Cornbelt is always tough.”
Freeman (10-12) is at the forefront of teams hoping to dethrone Canistota as the Flyers boast their own mix of senior leadership and athleticism.
Coach Rory Hermsen brings back senior guards Shaun Becker (14.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.1 apg) and Jordan Rinehart (10.1 ppg) as well as sophomore forward Cole Paulson (10.5 ppg) for a dangerous trio.
Senior Caleb Lang (8.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg) gives Freeman a solid fourth scoring option and a tough defender in the post with 6-2 guard Arron Lickteig, a three-year starter, rounding out the starting five.
Hanson and Bridgewater-Emery also expect to factor into the conference chase and in the Class B ranks.
The Beavers were the lone Cornbelt representative at state last season (finishing fifth) and return three starters from that 20-6 squad.
Sophomore guard Jordan Marquardt (13 ppg) returns to bolster a strong shooting group alongside senior guard Trey Persson and senior center Matt Huber.
“Coming off a state tourney appearance, we have a target on our back and we know that we’ll have to play well to compete,” said Hanson coach Josh Oltmanns.
Bridgewater-Emery (15-8) also brings back three starters – all seniors – that will be leaned on heavily until the Huskies develop more depth.
Six-foot-three forward Clayton Dye averaged 16.3 points and eight rebounds alongside 6-1 forward Terry Weber (8 ppg, 6 rpg) last year, while Jacob Schweitzer (12.2 ppg) will secure the backcourt.
“We’ll need to find some added help off the bench,” said Bridgewater-Emery coach Scott Schultz. “It will take a little time to develop some of the underclassmen, but hopefully by tournament time we’ll be as competitive as any team in our district.”
Menno (8-14) will have a fairly young group this season, but senior guard Austin Herrbolt and junior guard Dylan Lehr should set the tone. Meanwhile, Marion returns all five starters from last season.
The junior trio of Nick Gortmaker, Jacob Weurtz and Joey Pessia will be the key to the Bears improving on last year’s 1-19 mark.