That’s the mindset Southern Door coach Josh Rankin is trying to ingrain into his players this high school boys basketball season. It’s the mindset he believes the Eagles need in order to contend for a second consecutive Packerland Conference championship.
“We have to stay hungry and motivated and work on getting better every day,” Rankin said. “We’re not out there to defend anything. We’re on to chasing another title.”
The Eagles won the Packerland last season for the first time since 2008. They finished 13-1 in conference, three games ahead of runner-up Kewaunee.
They return only three regular varsity players from last season, but that small group is an experienced and talented one to build around. Seniors Mitchell Gerend and Trevor Hawkey and junior Nick LeCaptain are all-conference standouts who have played on the varsity team since their freshman seasons.
Gerend, a 6-3 point guard, averaged 11.6 points and six assists per game last season. He was chosen first-team all-conference as a junior and second-team all-conference as a sophomore.
“He makes us go,” Rankin said. “As a point guard, he has really great vision and is able to create for us on the offensive end.”
Hawkey, a 6-4 forward, averaged 11.9 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game last season. Rankin said he’s counting on Hawkey, a second-team all-conference pick as a junior, to elevate his game even more in the post with the graduation losses of Mitchel Neubauer, Lance Klaubauf, Sonny Soquet and Peter Soto.
“He’s going to have to do a lot of in-the-paint work — rebounding and shot-blocking,” Rankin said. “He’s our only true post player.”
LeCaptain, a 5-10 guard, averaged 11.7 points per game and made a team-best 62 three-pointers last season. He was honorable mention all-conference as a sophomore.
“His ability to stretch the floor with his outside shot is huge for us,” Rankin said.
The Eagles have only 15 players in their program, so Rankin is planning to carry six on varsity full time and rotate three others between junior varsity and varsity. The Eagles received a waiver from the WIAA that allows players to play three halves a night.
Rankin said his team is definitely capable of repeating as conference champs, but it’s not going to be easy. He said the eight-team conference appears as balanced as ever.
“Oconto has everybody back,” Rankin said. “Northeastern Wisconsin Lutheran has made the state tournament (three) years in a row and has a great program. Kewaunee returns the best player in the league in Zach Baumgartner. And Sturgeon Bay and Algoma are going to be tough,
“Across the board there are a lot of teams that could win this thing and will be in the conversation late in the season. We certainly believe we can be one of those teams. We have to be ready to go right from the beginning and stay hungry.”
Coach: Bob Graf, sixth year.
2014-15 record: 19-5.
Key players: Alex Dellis (sr., 6-3), Jake Lifto (sr., 6-3), Casey Stangel (jr., 5-10), Max Grovogel (jr., 6-0).
Notable: Graf likes the toughness and defense displayed by his team, although consistent scoring and rebounding could be a weakness early. The team’s junior varsity team went 20-2 last season, and several players from that squad are expected to be contributors this season. Lifto, Stangel and Grovogel all played significant varsity minutes last season.
Coach: Justin Burress, first year.
2014-15 record: 6-17.
Key players: Thor Johnson (sr., 6-1), Tyler Kropuenske (jr., 6-5), Nathan Sturgis (jr., 6-0), Anthony Laughlin (sr., 6-2), Ian Bennett (sr., 6-3), Connor Brennan (sr., 5-10), Casey Weddig (sr., 6-0).
Notable: Burress replaces Kent Sittle. The team will be a bit inexperienced having lost eight seniors. Johnson and Kropuenske combined to average 12.4 points per game last season.
Coach: Keil Ganz, second year.
2014-15 record: 15-8.
Key players: Sam LeCaptain (so., 6-2), Noah Kleiman (sr., 6-1) Mitch Kudick (jr., 5-8), Wes Gallenberger (jr., 6-4), Cody Bultman (so., 5-11), Zachary Baumgartner (sr., 6-8).
Notable: Baumgartner will helped lead the way for the Storm. He was a unanimous first-team all-conference pick as a junior. Kewaunee has to replace the production of former star Logan Brusky, who was the league’s co-player of the year last season.
Coach: Mark Meerstein, 25th year.
2014-15 record: 16-12.
Key players: Nathaniel Schaefer (sr., 5-11), Tanner Natzke (sr., 5-10), Samuel Meerstein (fr., 6-2), James Lana (sr., 5-10), Gabe Lloyd (sr., 6-5), Jed McClellan (sr., 6-3).
Notable: The Blazers have lost their first two games, including one to Southern Door. But they started last season 1-6 and ended up at the WIAA Division 5 state tournament. Schaefer, Natzke and Lloyd all started at state, giving N.E.W. some impact talent back to make another run. It has been to state each of the last three years.
Coach: John Bostedt, fifth year.
2014-15 record: 12-11.
Key players: Jakob Jarvey (sr., 6-3),Brady Bostedt (sr., 5-10), Sawyer Koch (sr., 6-5).
Notable: The Blue Devils had a young team last season that was successful, and now with most of the roster back there could be another jump in the standings. Oconto has started the season 2-0.
Co ach: Andy Symons,third year.
2014-15 record: 3-20.
Key players: Matt Newman (sr., 6-4).
Notable: The Pioneers have not won a conference game in the last two seasons, but they should be helped out with an experienced group that includes all five returning starters.
Coach: Josh Rankin, third year.
2014-15 record: 19-4.
Key players: Mitchell Gerend (sr., 6-3), Trevor Hawkey (sr., 6-4), Nick LeCaptain (jr., 6-0), Derik LeCaptain (fr., 6-2).
Notable: The defending Packerland champions are set up to have another big season. Gerend is a four-year starter and is closing in on the career assist record at the school. The Eagles have three returning starters in Gerend, Hawkey and Nick LeCaptain, and all three were on the all-conference team last season.
Coach: Jim Benesh, 21st year.
2014-15 record: 12-11.
Key players: Ryan Jackson (sr., 5-9), Cooper Nellis (sr., 6-2), Austin Lardinois (sr., 5-10), Rory Meikle (sr., 6-1), Kyle Medlen (sr., 5-10), Montana Gunnlaugsson (sr., 6-1), Edmon Kurschner (jr., 5-8).
Notable: The Clippers return three starters in Jackson, Nellis and Lardinois. It has to find a new point guard after senior Levi Haight decided to play club soccer this season. Kurschner should help fill the void. The team hopes to improve its shooting, which was an issue last season.
Scott Venci, Press-Gazette Media