After finishing the 2012 campaign 11-4 over the final 15 games, The Ripon boys basketball team felt they turned a corner coming into this season, despite parting ways with six seniors.
They’ll be much younger entering this season, but the talent level likely will be even greater.
Ripon head coach Dean Vander Plas has brought up a pair of freshmen to the varsity in 6-foot-5 inch Bennett Vander Plas and guard Luke Loewe, and plans on throwing them in the mix immediately.
It’s paid off already, as Loewe finished with 16 points and Vander Plas added nine in Ripon’s season-opening victory over Winnebago Lutheran last Tuesday.
“It’s a pretty special group of freshmen, Luke and Ben are ready to play,” Vander Plas said. “What I try to do is put kids that are varsity ready up on varsity, regardless of grade, and this year that just happens to be some freshmen.”
Ripon struggled out of the gate last season losing its first nine contests, but Vander Plas said what the kids showed over the final 15 games definitely brought some momentum into the offseason and carried that over into practices.
“I think it was huge for us, obviously to see kids that have pride in going about a job well done and getting better every day,” Vander Plas said. “After starting 0-9 and finishing 11-4 over the last 15 (games) was a tribute to them and their work ethic and it helped them in the offseason.”
The Tigers have four seniors on the roster this season in Sam Vander Plas, Landon Fenner, James Vander Galien and Manny Nelson. Sam and Ben Vander Plas are the sons of head coach Dean Vander Plas, and he believes that’s part of the reason the team chemistry is so strong this season.
“Ben and Luke have been around these seniors since they were in first grade, so I think that helps with the chemistry,” Vander Plas said. “Not only is Ben Sam’s little brother but Luke and Ben are all these kids’ little brother, so it’s a pretty neat chemistry there.”
Perhaps nobody will be more important to the success for Ripon this season than the emergence of Riley Haas.
The 6-1 junior guard, Haas excelled during the second half of last season when the Tigers went on their run and has carried that over to this year. Haas poured in a game-high 19 points in Ripon’s season-opener.
“Riley spends more time working on his physical stuff than a lot of kids his age, and you can see that is very helpful,” Vander Plas said. “He’s very quick off the floor, he has incredibly quick hands, and his first step is very good. What we got out of Riley (last Tuesday) is what we expected to get out him so that’s kind of nice.”
Ripon doesn’t have any goals heading into this season as far as wins and losses are concerned, they are more concerned with getting the best out of each day and making sure they improve throughout the course of the season.
“It’s cliché to say, but we want to be better tomorrow than we were today,” Vander Plas said. “We want to see what our potential is and we want to get our performance as close to our potential as we can.”