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Sophomores bring to mind glory days

Hicks, Kuipers boost Spartans' fortunes

By Pat Ruff

pruff@postbulletin.com

This is reminiscent of past glory days for the Rochester Mayo boys basketball program.

It was in 1997 that then-coach Mark Kieffer plucked a pair of tall and athletic sophomores, Matt Schlenker and Brett Boese, and made them prominent pieces on his varsity team. Behind them, Mayo went on to win three straight Big Nine Conference titles, and was lifted to a No. 2 state ranking their senior seasons.

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Something similar may be budding now, though the names have changed. Now it's sophomores Jordan Hicks and Lucas Kuipers, and the coach is second-year man Shaun Lang.

Lang is making no promising about a dead-on repeat of what Schlenker/Boese and Co. accomplished years ago. But he knows these guys have a chance.

"These guys have a ton of potential and great attitudes," Lang said. "You can't go wrong with them."

In a strict win-loss sense, there was plenty that went wrong last year. Mayo, with almost nobody on the roster taller than 6-foot-1, finished 3-22.

But dig a little deeper and you realize the season was anything but a complete loss. Lang watched his team battle the entire season, including right to the end, giving eventual Section 1AAAA champion Lakeville a scare before falling in the first round of the playoffs.

It was a character test for all involved, and for the most part, Lang gave his team high marks. Besides building resolve, it made them hungrier than ever this season to have success.

Things seem in place to have that now. And it may just be on the 6-foot-5 Hicks that the Spartans will lean most.

A multi-faceted player, with enough strength to compete right away inside, Lang loves his present and future.

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"He can definitely shoot the ball well, on the interior and the perimeter," Lang said. "He moves his feet well, he has long arms and he jumps really well. He's got a lot to learn, but he will work hard to get there."

Kuipers, like Hicks, is tall and mobile. But while Hicks is a certain starter, Lang's plan is to ease Kuipers in off the bench.

While the sophomores will play key roles on this team, it's senior guards Mark Junge and Jordan Miller who are the Spartans' leaders. Neither put up big numbers last year (Miller 7 ppg., Junge 2 ppg.), but both provide Mayo with a presence.

"Those two give us some pretty physical guards," Lang said. "Mark is a great defender, and Jordan is a great shooter."

The Spartans also have 6-4 senior Sean Martin, a fundamentally sound player who has been one of Lang's most pleasant surprises thus far.

Others who will contribute for Mayo are 6-3 junior forward Andrew Valen, as well as junior guards Ben Nelson and Chris LaJoie.

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