By Rob LaPlante
The basketball season is nearing and the defending co-Mississippi 8 conference champions have a ton of question marks.
A year removed from a 20-7 season and a share of the conference title, the St. Michael-Albertville boys’ basketball team has some glaring holes to fill heading into Friday’s season opener with Orono.
Gone from last year’s squad are four all-conference starters. Leading scorer Michael Wiese, who averaged 17.4 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game, will be the biggest shoes to fill.
Starting guards Michael Mooney (14.5 ppg), Max Babb (10.1 ppg) and 6-foot-6 center Herbert Tarpeh (10.3 ppg) all graduated. Tarpeh dominated the boards, leading the team in total rebounds (263).
The four graduating seniors leave a bunch of new positions to be filled. Also factor in four returning players will miss the start of the season due to injuries.
Senior forward Austin Brouillette (leg) will miss the entire season. Senior forward Justin McLain (foot) re-injured the same foot he had surgery on last summer while playing an indoor soccer game. Junior guard Andrew Winans (knee) will miss the early part of the season with an injury he occurred during football season and sophomore guard Jackson Greenwaldt injured both wrists in practice and will miss the season opener.
STMA head coach Tim Anfenson admits his work is cut out for him.
“We’re hoping to survive and hopefully pull some early wins out,” Anfenson said. “The teams we are playing early are good basketball teams. This will go back to our leaders. We told them that there is going to be some highs and lows and there will be some growing pains. But we feel we’ll be a good basketball team by the end of the year.”
Besides Brouillette and McLain, the Knights return six other seniors to this year’s squad. Three of those players, Cole Krutzig, Erik Johnson and Brian Ferry played in all 27 games as juniors.
Krutzig will take over the role of point guard. Ferry returns as one of the tallest players at 6-foot-3. He will spend time playing both forward and center. Johnson will return as one of the leading forwards. Both Ferry and Johnson return as the leading scorers (4.6 ppg).
With pretty much the entire offense gone from a year ago, both Ferry and Johnson know they have to pick up their game as senior leaders.
“There are some new faces but we’re still expecting a lot out of everyone,” Johnson said. “We’re all working hard in practice and trying to get things done around here.”
“Practices are a lot more competitive than last year,” said an optimistic Ferry. “Kids are fighting for all they can get. I think we’ll play pretty tough defense this year. There is a lot of competitive spirit on this team.”
While the returning stats on paper may be far from impressive, the experience gained from last year’s winning season should help the seniors. The Knights won 10 games in a row at one point last season. Factor in a 56-55 playoff overtime upset loss to Moorhead in the opening round of the Section 8AAAA playoffs, the seniors should be hungry.
“I felt we had a team that was a state tournament team and they played like it all year,” Anfenson said. “In high school basketball, on any given night, you can get it. We had a couple opportunities at the end of that game and they didn’t go in. Moorhead was no slouch and went on to go to the state tournament. It just didn’t happen for us last year.”
While the Knights relied heavily on Wiese, Babb, Tarpeh and Mooney, this year’s squad will look for new heroes each night.
Junior guards Dallas Freeman and Noah Evans brings both defense and speed. Greenwaldt and Krutzig bring the ability to run the floor, as well as score some points. Ferry, Johnson, Winans, Gavin Dick will each see increased minutes as well.
“I think Erik and I along with the other seniors are trying to step up and put this team on our shoulders,” Ferry said. “This team has a lot of potential and we want to help them reach that and by doing that we can reach our own potential.”
The Knights open the season this Friday night at home against Orono. Tuesday they host Elk River. Both home dates tip-off at 7:15 p.m.
Other highlights to this year’s schedule will be the rematch Jan. 8 against Moorhead. On Jan 15, they play at Edina. The Hornets have two players, Reggie Lynch (Illinios State) and Graham Woodward (Penn State) that are committed to Division I programs.
They also have their usual two showdowns with Rogers, who they split the conference title a year ago.
“We have enough guys in here that will work hard,” Johnson said. “I’d say we can contend for the M-8 conference. We just need to stop teams from scoring and play solid defense.