A guard-oriented Menomonie boys’ basketball team can be expected to provide a different pace on the court this season.
Coach Matthew Riley said that due to the amount of guards on the roster this year, the Mustangs will be able to handle pressure better and play more of a fast-paced game than in the past.
Having lost five letterwinners to graduation, Riley will look to a number of returning athletes to make a big jump in playing time and performance.
“As a team we will be very young, but with the athletes we have I expect to make a jump and improve from last year,” Riley said. “We take a game-by-game approach, with the goal of getting better each time we step on the floor.”
Among a batch of fresh starters is the lone returning starter, junior Jace Kressin (guard, 6-foot-4) who made his mark last season with honorable mention in the Big Rivers All-Conference, averaging 10.8 points per game (ppg) and 3.7 rebounds per game (rpg). The now-graduated Jace LaBuda accompanied Kressin as an honorable mention selection for averaging 11 ppg and six rpg.
Alongside Kressin in the potential starting five are juniors Jake Ebert (guard, 6-foot-1, 3.5 ppg, two rpg), Sam Zbornik (forward, 6-foot-5, three ppg, two rpg), Sam Sleichert (guard, 5-foot-10, 1.3 ppg, one rpg) and sophomores Dylan Boecker (guard, 6-foot-3, 6.2 ppg, four rpg) and Ethan Wurtzel (point guard, 5-foot-10, three ppg). Boecker and Ebert carry some starting experience, having started in a couple of games last year, but had come off the bench in the majority of last year’s matches.
Ebert, along with Sleichert are two players Riley also sees as key leaders this season. Riley said Sleichert brings unmatched energy every single day and is a large vocal presence for the team, while Ebert has the ability to stay calm and communicate well on the floor.
The Mustangs will also be adding five new faces to the team in seniors John Brogan (forward, 6-foot-2) and Brenden Johnston (forward, 6-foot-5), junior Colter Feddersen (forward, 6-foot-5), and sophomores Davis Barthen (guard, 5-foot-9) and Tyler Werner (guard, 6-foot-2).
Coach Riley knows there is a tough road ahead, as eight of the 10 all-conference first and second team player selections are back to compete in the Big Rivers Conference (BRC) this season.
“I see Rice Lake as the favorite, but expect all teams to be very solid this year,” Riley remarked. “It is our goal to be competitive in each game we play in and to finish in the top half of the conference.”
Riley aims to climb the ranks this season after landing dead last in the BRC last year. They went 1-11 in the BRC — defeating Hudson 71-70 on Feb. 10 — and finishing the season 3-19 overall, winning two non-conference games against Hill-Murray and Baldwin-Woodville early on. They were taken out of the playoffs in the first round with a 60-51 loss to River Falls.
Menomonie will dive straight into conference play, as they open up the 2017-18 season to host Eau Claire Memorial Tuesday. They have home court advantage for the following three games as well, taking on Chippewa Falls Friday, La Crosse Logan Tuesday, Dec. 5 and River Falls Friday, Dec. 8.
Seniors: John Brogan, Brenden Johnston
Juniors: Jake Ebert, Colter Feddersen, Jace Kressin, Sam Sleichert, Sam Zbornik
Sophomores: Davis Barthen, Dylan Boecker, Thomas Poplowski, Tyler Werner, Ethan Wurtzel
Freshmen: Brock Thornton