Head coach Jamie Arenz seemed on the verge of giddiness when talking about the Kiel boys basketball team.
Yes, the Raiders are in a stacked Eastern Wisconsin Conference, and yes, it is a long season where injuries and bad breaks can stain a once promising campaign.
But, with all of the season’s basketballs still awash with that new basketball smell, Arenz knew he was sitting on the verge of something that could be pretty special.
“The team and the coaches were pretty excited about this upcoming season,” Arenz said last week. “We return a large amount of our offense from last year and we have a team that’s pretty committed to taking that next step and fighting for the top of the conference.”
Although Kiel doesn’t return its entire roster from last season, the Raiders will return their top five scorers from a year ago, highlighted by senior Carter Voelker.
Voelker, who spends most of his time at point guard for Kiel, averaged 19.8 points per game, while shooting 46 percent from 3-point range last season and was a unanimous first-team all-EWC selection.
“Every year Carter keeps getting better and better and keeps rounding out his game,” Arenz said. “This year, he knows a lot of the attention is going to be on him offensively and so he’s become a better playmaker over the years. His basketball IQ is extremely high and his job is going to be to lead us and doing whatever we need him to do to win on certain nights.”
Trenton Nickel and Nicholas Walsh will join Voelker as returning perimeter players after averaging 12.8 and 9.4 points, respectively, a year ago. Nickel was a second-team all-conference selection a year ago, while Walsh earned honorable mention honors.
Rounding out the leading scorers from last year are frontcourt players Austin Goehring, who led the EWC in rebounding a year ago and was a second-team all-conference selection, and Brandon Niemuth, who at 6-foot-5 is the Raiders’ tallest player.
“Last year, we were pretty young and we really focused last year on being a team that took a step in the right direction. Our goal last year was to keep progressing,” Arenz said. “This year the mindset is pretty different. We know what we want to do. We are very comfortable with who we are as a team and what our roles are on the team.”
But Arenz knows it won’t be easy.
The new-look EWC added the top three finishers in the Olympian Conference from last year and three perennially strong programs in Valders, Roncalli and Brillion.
Add that to the programs that remained in the EWC after realignment – New Holstein, Sheboygan Falls and Two Rivers – and throw in an upstart Chilton squad and there could be some rough nights over the next few months.
“Really, this season if you look at it from top to bottom it’s pretty exciting. There is really a lot of quality and it’s going to be fun,” Arenz said. “We talked a lot already this season about being consistent. We are in a very balanced conference with several strong teams so we can’t take a night off. We have to do our thing both offensively and defensively every night and that goes from November all the way through March.”
One thing that may give the Raiders a boost, too, was the school’s strong showing during the football season.
With the bulk of the roster having played on the team that went 9-2 and made it to Level 2 in the playoffs, Arenz believes there can be a carry-over effect.
“I really believe kids learn how to win and hopefully success in one sport can fuel that drive in another sport,” Arenz said. “All of the coaches are big fans of multi-sport athletes. We are trying to just cultivate an atmosphere of winning whether it’s cross country, football, basketball, soccer, you name it. Winning, no matter what the sport, is contagious.”