By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
Could this be the year the Longhorns reclaim the SPVA conference basketball title?
“Right now, North Platte St. Pat’s is still number one in the conference until somebody knock’s them off,” Coach Carl Zuege said this week.
By all indications, this could be a breakout year for the Longhorns with Zuege returning a wealth of experienced players, including five starters from last year’s team.
The Longhorns finished with a 17-7 mark last year—the best record for a Longhorn team since 2004.
Zuege will get the chance to put experience to the test beginning today (Thursday) when the Longhorns play host to Cozad.
The Longhorns get the chance to avenge last year’s subdistrict final loss when Cozad upset the ’Horns.
Then, on Friday, they follow that up with a trip down Highway 6 to face Class B McCook.
Staying focused key goal
Zuege said one of the keys for success will be for his squad to remain focused throughout the whole season.
Just because they have lots of experience and had success last season doesn’t mean they can take things for granted, he said.
The Longhorns always face a tough pre-Christmas schedule and this year will be no different.
Zuege said Sidney, who comes to Imperial Dec. 12, could be one of the best teams the Longhorns face all season. Plus, there’s a chance they could face them again in the Cabela’s Holiday Shoot-out in early January.
And then there’s North Platte St. Pat’s. The last four years the Longhorns have fallen to the Irish in the SPVA conference tournament in January. The last two years, it’s been in the finals and last year it was only by two points.
Zuege said his team is poised for the Longhorn’s first conference title since 2003. ‘They’re hungry,” he said.
He expects SPVA newcomer Bridgeport to make an impact this year. Hershey was a young team last year and Zuege expects them to be much improved this year. Perkins County will be improved as well but is still young, Zuege said.
Progress ahead of schedule
Zuege said Monday his squad is already ahead of where they were at this time last year. That improvement began during the summer and has continued through to the season, he noted.
Nonetheless, he said they still have lots of work to do to keep improving. If they can do that, Zuege said some big things await this ball club.
Starters plus depth
Zuege brings back his top three scorers from last year.
Jeff Dickey, a six-foot senior, averaged 12.6 points per game and led the team in treys with 49, rebounds with 124, steals with 44 and assists with 39.
Kelton Fisher, a 6-5 senior, averaged 10.3 points per game, led the team in blocks with 13 and finished with 106 rebounds.
Travis Luhrs, another 6-0 senior, averaged 9.8 points and hit 37 treys and grabbed 40 steals.
Isaac Sorensen, a 6-2 senior, is Zuege’s defensive specialist, drawing the job of shutting down the opponents’ best player.
Ryan Moline, a 5-10 senior, will be Zuege’s offensive floor general and key ball handler. He too is known for his defensive abilities.
Juniors Destyn Milner and Jared Sharp will see plenty of varsity action coming off the bench.
Seniors Kevin Chavira, Jose Cepeda and Darin Knobbe provide some additional depth, Zuege said. He noted Cepeda is one of the quickest players on the team and handles the ball well.
Zuege is joined by assistants Scott Way and Matt Hanna.
The Longhorns open the season at home tonight (Thursday). Jayvee boys and girls games kick off at 4 p.m. MT, followed by the varsity girls and boys games.
On Friday, the Longhorns travel to McCook with jayvee games beginning at 3 p.m. MT followed by the varsity games.
This year’s Longhorn roster includes 28 players, including 10 seniors. Players include:
Seniors—Travis Luhrs, Ryan Moline, Adolfo Ortega, Tyler Jennings, Jose Cepeda, Jeffrey Dickey, Kelton Fisher, Isaac Sorensen, Darin Knobbe, Kevin Chavira.
Juniors—Destyn Milner, Eli Engbrecht, Michael Musgrove, Jared Sharp, Brandon Chavira.
Sophomores—Ike Maxwell, Dakota Wallin, Nolan Spady, Cody Williams, Trace Helser.
Freshmen—Francisco Barrientos, Will Kuenne, Juan Venegas, Kass Cochran, Bryce Zuege, Noah Griffin, Jace Clevenger, Jack Bauerle.