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Packers look to build with some newcomers

Austin seeks return trip to section title game — and a deeper playoff push

By Scott A. Kolb

skolb@postbulletin.com

The Austin Packers boys basketball team starts the season with a Saturday matinee against St. Louis Park at Ove Berven Gym.

Last season, the Austin boys made it to the section championship game, which was their deepest run in the playoffs in a quarter of century. Still, it was the fourth straight season with a losing overall record.

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Although most of the key players from last year’s team have graduated, the Packers have a more diversified offensive group this season and that should mean a more balanced scoring attack.

James Maxfield, a senior at center, played a lot last year in the low post and will be looked upon to carry more of the scoring load this season. Will Hagan and Ryan Duren are the other seniors on roster.

The Packers have a junior dominated team this season with some talented sophomores adding to the mix. Marcus Gunderson is a junior forward who saw plenty of playing time last season. John Maxfield is a junior forward, who can add some point production to the Packers offense.

"The kids have been working hard and they’re ready to go, but for me it seems like the season opener comes too quick," Austin coach Kris Fadness said. "I like our skill level and we should be able to do some things offensively. In the past few years, we relied a lot on a couple of big scorers, but this season we’ll have more balance with a lot of guys who can pitch in points."

In addition to James Maxfield and Gunderson in the low block, the Packers will also rely on 6-foot-3 junior forward Chris Jahr. The Packers don’t have a lot of height on the inside, so they’ll have to use quickness and position rebounding to combat all the tall players in the Big Nine Conference.

Rochester Mayo has a pair of players coming back who have already signed to play Division I college ball. Owatonna has two 6-6 players coming back and coach Fadness once again expects Mankato West to be tough in conference play.

Fadness is entering his 11th season on the Packers bench and his teams are always competitive in the conference. There are only a handful of games before the Christmas break, but one of those will be a home date with the Albert Lea Tigers, which is always a good show.

"I feel this year is a better chance to improve on our record and get back over the .500 mark," Fadness said. "We have more balance offensively and scoring points shouldn’t be a big concern, but we need to find a way to stop people. We have a good rotation of about nine players and hopefully, we can get into the top half of the Big Nine and steal a few games from the big boys in the conference."

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Junior guards Will Felten, Nate Justice, and Steven Rizzi will add depth to the Packers backcourt rotation. Sophomores Connor Gunderson and T.J. Fritz will also see a lot of playing time this season. Sophomore guard Jamaal Gibson is a very quick player and the coach hopes he can develop into another key figure in the backcourt.

St. Louis Park, the opponent in the season opener at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, isn’t a real big team and will be perimeter oriented.

Miles Silbert is their point guard. He can score off penetration to the basket and is also a deadly outside shooter.

"What I like about Saturday afternoon as compared to Friday night for the opener is that we get an extra practice day," Fadness concluded. "We’ll be ready to go, and it should be a good game. I’m curious to see how the young kids go out and handle the varsity games. I hope we can play with confidence and get the season off to a good start."

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