Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2012, 9:53 pm

Several area TRAC-9 clubs hope to chase down Comets in '12-13

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By Terry Duckett,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Erie's Jacob Johnston takes the ball to the basket against Rockridge during the Orion Tipoff Classic in November.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood
Prophetstown's Devin Johnson sails toward the basket for a layup as Riverdale's Caleb Maraden defends during the third quarter of play Thursday evening, Dec. 22, 2011, at Riverdale High School.
Last year, the Riverdale boys' basketball team enjoyed its most successful season in nearly two decades and ended the prep career of star guard Wes DeClercq on a fitting note.

Led by DeClercq's 22 points and four assists per game, the Rams won all but one of their 14 Three Rivers Conference games to nose out Sterling Newman by one game for the league championship. They then followed that up with their first boys' hoops regional crown since 1993.

However, an era ended for Riverdale with its overtime loss to Minonk Fieldcrest in the Class 2A sectional semifinals. With DeClercq and three other starters lost to graduation, the Rams will be retooling around a nucleus of seven returning seniors led by its lone returning starter, point guard Jared Richmond (10 points, 4 assists per game in 2011-12).

"I know the first thing people will think is that, `Wes is finally gone.' I had coaches tell me last year that it seemed like he'd been playing here seven years,'' said Riverdale coach Jason Hendrix. "Losing 90 percent of our scoring, the first reaction people have is that we're going to struggle and rebuild, but I don't think so.

"Jared learned quite a bit from Wes at point guard, and we do have a lot of size. In previous seasons, we haven't had one guy taller than 6-foot-5, so we're going to change some stuff this year. I think we'll surprise some people this year.''

While Hendrix and the Rams hope to open some eyes this winter, last year's runner-up Newman is tops on many TRAC-9 coaches lists after a season in which the Comets advanced to the Class 1A Elite Eight.

Another team with title aspirations is Erie (24-8), which was third in a tight race last season, two games behind Riverdale and one behind Newman.However, losing three starters -- including 6-foot-6 forward Jordan Schaller and his 16 points and 9.5 rebounds per game -- will be tough for the Cardinals, who will lean on returning senior guard Jacob Johnston (18.5 points, 7 rebounds) to shore up the offense. A rugged early-season schedule doesn't help matters much.

"In my 10 years of coaching, I've never seen a more brutal schedule to start, with us playing Rockridge, then Monmouth-Roseville and Orion (at the Orion Tip-Off Classic),'' said Erie coach Ryan Winckler, who begins his 10th year at the helm of his alma mater. "Then, we open conference play against Newman, one of the teams picked to win the TRAC-9.

"We're going to ask Jacob and (senior guard) Connor (Saad) to do a lot of things to start out the year, and hope our younger guys quickly understand what it takes to play at the varsity level.''

Looking to keep moving forward is Prophetstown (16-15), which is coming off consecutive winning seasons for the first time in two decades.The loss of 6-7 center Matt Juhola (15 points, 8 rebounds) in the paint will hurt, but the Prophets otherwise return the rest of their starting lineup, led by the senior duo of guard Devin Johnson (12 points, 3 steals, 3 assists) and forward Zach Inskeep (7 points, 7 rebounds). That has goals set high.

"The guys know what's expected of them,'' said Prophetstown coach Cordell Juhola. "They're ready, and inspired to take it to another level. It doesn't matter what we do in the conference -- our sights are set on winning a regional title, which is something Prophetstown hasn't done in 30 years. That's our goal.''

After slipping to 10-18 last year, Kewanee looks to bounce back despite the loss of 10-point-per game scorers Dontae Pryor and Glenn Wells, with the latter putting up 11 points and 10 boards a game last year. Senior guard and leading scorer Dayton Ince (16 points) and up-and-coming freshman forward Donovan Oliver have hopes high in the Boilermaker camp.

"We're not very big, but we're athletic,'' said Kewanee coach Steve Salisbury. "Donovan got a lot of recognition and experience playing AAU ball, and he's been fitting in well with the others.''

Both Morrison (9-22) and Fulton (6-22) seek improvement this year, although the Steamers have to replace graduated guard Erik Renkes and his 20 points and eight rebounds per game and the Mustangs lose 6-5 center Bill Bos and his 14 points and seven boards per night.


Erie Cardinals
Ryan Winckler (10th year).
2011-12: 24-8 (11-3 TRAC-9); lost 76-56 to Sterling Newman in the Class 1A Newman Regional finals.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Jacob Johnston (6-4 G), Connor Saad (5-10 G), Rhett Stover (6-3 F), Zack Maloney (5-10 G).
Newcomers -- Sr.: Nate Andreas (6-1 G). Jrs.: Owen McConnell (6-3 C), Kenneth Cole (6-4 C), Kyle Coleman (5-10 F), Brandon Heppner (6-3 C), Koby Kuhnen (5-8 G). Soph.: Sean Maloney (5-9 G). Fr.: Jordan Chandler (5-10 G).
Fulton Steamers
Coach: Rick Norman (4th year).
2011-12: 6-22 (3-11 TRAC-9); lost 62-48 to Prophetstown in the first round of the Class 2A Bureau Valley Regional.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: T.J. Huizenga (6-0 G), John Widener (6-4 C), Nick Fish (6-3 F).
Newcomers -- Jrs.: Jake Willging (6-3 C), Devin Kuehl (5-11 G), Cody Huff (5-11 F), Kody Crosthwaite (5-8 G), Alex Barber (5-8 G). Soph.: Matt Dail (6-3 F).
Kewanee Boilermakers
Coach: Steve Salisbury (2nd year).
2011-12: 10-18 (5-9 TRAC-9); lost 64-47 to Morrison in the first round of the Class 2A Bureau Valley Regional.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Dayton Ince (5-10 G), Matt Gustafson (6-2 G). Jrs.: Ryan Hicks (5-10 G), Dalton Nuding (6-1 F).
Newcomers -- Jrs.: Jared Nimrick (6-1 F), John Moraski (5-8 G), Trayvond Taylor (6-1 F). Fr.: Donovan Oliver (6-4 F).
Morrison Mustangs
Coach: Dave Peugh (1st year).
2011-12: 9-22 (3-11 TRAC-9); lost 73-38 to Riverdale in the Class 2A Bureau Valley Regional semifinals.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Matt Wilkens (5-10 G), Kyle Meurs (6-0 F), Brock Deter (6-0 F), Alex Weeks (5-10 G), Alexander Volckmann (5-10 G).
Newcomers -- Sr.: Connor Duncan (6-1 F). Jr.: Bill Lee Greul (6-3 F). Soph.: Hunter Hamstra (6-3 F), Scott Ferry (6-5 C).
Prophetstown Prophets
Coach: Cordell Juhola (8th year).
2011-12: 16-14 (7-7 TRAC-9); lost 52-50 to Bureau Valley in the Class 2A Bureau Valley Regional semifinals.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Josh Green (5-9 G), Devin Johnson (5-7 G), Carter Ames (6-3 F), Zach Inskeep (5-11 F), Lucas Pierceson (5-8 G). Jr.: Ethan Howard (6-0 F).
Newcomers -- Srs.: Jake Plautz (6-3 C/F), Rivor Gage (5-9 F). Jrs.: Chris Bauer (5-7 G), Austin Gerlach (6-5 C), Zach Maronde (5-8 G/F), Daniel Shirley (6-1 F), Jay Ufkin (5-6 G), Austin Meadows (5-8 G). Soph.: Grant Ames (6-1 G).
Riverdale Rams
Coach: Jason Hendrix (5th year).
2011-12: 26-5 (13-1 TRAC-9, 1st place); lost 53-51 (OT) to Minonk Fieldcrest in the Class 2A Princeton Sectional semifinals.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Jared Richmond (5-9 G), Mitchell Sand (6-1 G), Bart Johnson (6-1 F), Zach Mikles (6-3 F), Drew Beale (6-3 C/F), Cade Sharp (5-11 G), Travis Smeltzly (5-9 G).
Newcomers -- Jrs.: Wyatt Klavon (5-9 G), Eli Smith (6-0 F), James Turkal (6-2 F), Cody Alguire (5-10 G). Soph.: Cole Solomon (6-5 C/F).