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Mid-East League Hoops Preview

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*Kansas Pregame will release its second annual Winter Preview late this week. This year we're trying something new by releasing some of our preview coverage of basketball and wrestling online prior to the release of our complete digital edition of the magazine, followed the second week of December by distribution of hard copies. Follow along here and on social media for complete distribution details. COACHES, don't see your team listed or have updates to your lineup? Email us details at pregamequestionnaires@gmail.com.

The postseason was filled with near misses last season for some members of the Mid-East League.

The Wabaunsee Chargers came within seconds of playing for the Class 2A girls' state championship, but dropped an overtime decision to eventual state champ Garden Plain in the semifinals.

Riley County lost a pair of close games in the Class 3A sub-state finals - the boys losing to eventual 3A runner-up Beloit and the girls dropping a low-scoring affair to Clay Center.

The Silver Lake boys may have suffered the toughest loss of them all, a 47-46 defeat to Perry-Lecompton in the 3A sub-state final.

All four teams are expected to be back in the hunt for state tournament berths this season and the St. Marys boys have the potential to be one of the top teams in 3A.

BOYS

SILVER LAKE will have work to do in order to defend last year's league championship. The Eagles lost four all-league players to graduation and return no starters from an 18-5 team that narrowly missed qualifying for the state tournament.

"We do have young players who played a lot during the off-season and are athletic," head coach Linndy Frieden said. "Our JV team went 15-2 last year and (those players) will be counted on to play valuable varsity minutes."

Three projected starters listed by Frieden include 5-9 senior Kyler Kaviper, 6-0 senior Jarek Clark and 6-2 senior Cody Hay.

The ST. MARYS Bears, coached by former Kansas State standout Will Spradling, are looking to have a big year. The Bears started 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the MEL before injuries to three starters derailed their season. They finished 13-9 overall and now return six players who started and also added a talented transfer.

Senior guard Caden Hurla, 6-2 forward Bryan Schoemann and 5-11 junior Danny Moylan all averaged 11 points a game last season and were named first-team all-league. Also returning are 6-3 senior Scott Ewing (4.0 ppg.), 6-1 junior Isiah Holz (6.0 ppg.) and 5-8 sophomore Jaxon Hurla. The Bears also picked up a move-in transfer during the offseason - senior guard Rhett Murray - who was an honorable mention all-league player for Wabaunsee last year.

"We have high expectations and will be a well-balanced team that likes to play uptempo," coach Spradling said. "We will have a very deep bench, allowing us to apply constant pressure and keep players fresh."

RILEY COUNTY will be strong and deep again. The Falcons return four starters from last year's 17-6 team - 6-3 senior Garrett Harmison (11.0 ppg., 7.0 rpg.), 6-foot senior Ian Upoff (6 ppg.), 6-1 junior Avery Holle (6 ppg.) and 6-1 junior Connor Holle (7 ppg.). Harmison, also a record breaking quarterback for the Falcon football team, was named first-team all-league.

"We have a pretty solid group of guys - one through 12 - who can contribute on any given night, " head coach Dustin Webber said. "We need to find the right rotation, play hard, push the ball and use that depth to our advantage."

ROCK CREEK features one of the top players in the league in 6-1 junior guard Dawson Zenger, who averaged 19.6 points per game last year while earning first-team all-league honors. Also returning is 5-9 junior guard Brooks Whaley. Five other lettermen are back as well.

"We lost four seniors, including three starters to graduation, but our underclassmen gained a lot of game experience last season and they know the expectations of our team," coach Jim Johnston said.  "We should be a better outside shooting team than last year and be able to space the floor."

ROSSVILLE has four starters returning as the Bulldogs look to improve greatly on last year's 2-18 record - 6-4 junior Bo Reeves, 5-10 senior Kaleb Badura, 6-foot junior Tyree Sowers (HM all-league) and 5-8 junior Kaiden Brown.

"Our group was extremely young last year, but with a season under their belts, they should have a better feel for basketball at the varsity level," said head coach Eammon Bradley. "This team has struggled to shoot, so they'll have to take advantage of their size and athleticism in the paint."

New WABAUNSEE coach Christian Ulsaker, a former McPherson Bullpup and Washburn University standout, welcomes back three players with starting experience from a squad that went 5-16 overall and just 1-9 in the MEL. The Chargers will be young this season with three sophomores as projected starters.

Seniors Jakob Schutter (6-3) and Jackson Frank (6-foot) are returning starters and will be joined by a group of exciting young players.

Sophomores Brayden Meseke and Cade Oliver and freshman Eli Oliver are talented underclassmen. Meseke is a returning starter and Ulsaker says Cade will be a "hybrid player" who will play multiple positions and "be a mismatch problem for teams." Ulsaker calls Eli the team's top incoming freshman who can "shoot the ball from deep."

The Oliver siblings are younger brothers to graduated standout Abby Oliver, now a freshman on the Washburn basketball team and a Kansas Pregame Spring covergirl.

The Chargers will have to replace senior Rhett Murray, who transferred to St. Marys after an honorable mention all-league season last year.

GIRLS

WABAUNSEE will be one of the teams to beat in Class 2A this season. The Chargers finished 22-4 last year, won the Mid-East League with a 9-1 mark and finished third in the 2A state tournament.  Four starters, including two first-team all-league players, return for head coach Trevor Keller.

All four returning starters are seniors - 5-6 guard Madelyn  Hutley (13.9 points, 2.8 steals per game), 5-8 forward Autymn Schreiner (9.1 ppg., 3.0 spg.),  5-5 guard Laurel Barber (4.9 ppg.) and 5-9 forward Megan Strait (4.0 ppg.). Hutley and Schreiner were first-team all-league selections.

The Chargers will also look for expanded roles for senior Alexis Hafenstine and junior Madisyn Wertzberger, both key members of Wabaunsee's 2A volleyball state championship win over Spearville in early November.

Junior Jordan Magette and sophomores Kara Hafenstine and Lauren Schutter (6-2) should also contribute important varsity minutes for a group of girls that is in the midst of athletic success in all sports.

"The Mid-East League is very competitive and we will need to be prepared for a tough challenge every time we step on the court," Keller said. "Our goal is to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season."

Wabaunsee will be tested by a strong RILEY COUNTY team that returns three starters from a 17-6 team. Head coach Harold Oliver is starting his 31st season at RCS and 35th overall. He needs one win to reach the 600 plateau.

Returning for the Falcons are a pair of first-team all-league selections - 5-4 senior Sarah Thomson (10.1 ppg., 3.0 apg.) and 5-10 junior Jessi Brummett (12.1 ppg., 5.0 rpg.).  Also back is 5-8 junior Ames Burton (6.0 ppg., 6.0 rpg.).

"We have a solid nucleus in place," Oliver said. "The key will be how others assume new roles, developing consistent scoring and staying healthy throughout the season."

ROCK CREEK welcomes back three starters from a 9-11 team for head coach Adam Plummer - 5-9 junior Evie Gill, 5-9 junior Lauren Gill (honorable mention all-league) and 5-7 sophomore Brooklyn Goehring.  The Mustangs will be young this season, with much of the varsity roster filled with freshmen and sophomores.

"A major question is how the new leaders on the team build on the foundation established by (graduated seniors) Laney (Scott) and Allie (Jensen)," Plummer said.  "We need to stay healthy and out of foul trouble. Depth is a concern for us."

ST. MARYS returns three starters and five additional lettermen from a 10-11 team.  The starters are 5-11 junior forward Jacie Schindler (4.0 ppg., 6.0 rpg.), 5-11 junior Jordan Harrison (5.0 ppg., 3.0 rpg.) and 5-5 sophomore point guard Morgan Hurla (7.0 ppg.).

The Bears also welcome back varsity letterwinners Kiera Schoenfeld (Sr., 5-4, PG), Jaylee Hurd (Sr., 5-7, G/F), Ellie Layton (Sr. 5-7, G), Brenna Mulligan (Sr., 5-6, G/F) and Katelyn Hurla (So., 5-5, G).

"For the first time in years, we will have the bulk of our varsity roster composed of upperclassmen," head coach Randy Wild said. "This is a hard working and tight group that should be able to compete with every team on the schedule."

SILVER LAKE will look to work its way back into the league race this season with three starters returning from a 9-12 team - 5-7 senior Lyndsey VandeVelde (7.0 ppg.), 5-3 senior Jayme Lindstrom (7.0 ppg.) and 5-7 senior Daryn Lamprecht (6.0 ppg., 5.0 rpg.).  Lindstrom was named first-team all-league and VandeVelde was honorable mention while Lamprecht is both a standout volleyball and softball player.

"We have some experience and some scoring back from last year," said head coach Loren Ziegler, who is starting his 33rd season as the Eagles' head coach. "We need to improve our skills, consistency and work new players into their roles."

ROSSVILLE will look to improve with three starters back from a team that was 5-15 overall - 5-5 junior Julia Streit (3.0 pp.), 6-0 senior Taylor Morelli (6.0 pp., 6.0 rbp.) and 5-8 junior Gracie Rabe (3.0 ppg.).  Head coach Michael Bell said a solid freshman class will need to be ready to contribute.

*Kansas Pregame will release its second annual Winter Preview late this week. This year we're trying something new by releasing some of our preview coverage of basketball and wrestling online prior to the release of our complete digital edition of the magazine, followed the second week of December by distribution of hard copies. Follow along here and on social media for complete distribution details. COACHES, don't see your team listed or have updates to your lineup? Email us details at pregamequestionnaires@gmail.com.

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